Visualizing Data to Enhance the User Experience

Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network

  • Membership of 45 organizations in 28 states and DC.
  • Seven full time staff.
  • Moving from a long, text-based annual report to a visual, interactive report increased views more than 400%

This case study was originally published along with a dozen others in our free e-book, Collected Voices: Data-Informed Nonprofits. You can download the e-book here.

NTEN: Eric, tell us about your work.

Eric Eagon (EE): With a membership of 45 organizations in 28 states and DC, we connect state-based education advocates to one another and to our national policy and advocacy partners. We do this through a variety of in-person and virtual networking opportunities. We also support advocates with targeted decision support tools and a social media presence that amplifies their work.

Im one of seven full-time staffers, and I came on board as a Senior Associate for Policy and Communications in September 2012.

NTEN: Whats one way you recently addressed a specific challenge related to data?

EE: We conduct an annual survey of our whole network. For our first few years, we used SurveyMonkey and then put all of the data into a massive report.

But it wasn’t getting much traction. When we looked at Google Analytics for the 2012 report, we saw just 82 views of the summary page and only one download. We had tons of information that could help our members collaborate with one another and plan better supports, but it wasn’t presented in an inviting, useful way.

NTEN: What did you do to fix or improve the situation?

EE: We made two major changes. We conducted phone interviews to supplement the online survey and capture more stories. We also created an interactive map to make it much simpler for our members to find what they need.

We launched the map at our conference this fall, creating interest among our 300+ attendees. We also led webinars; refer people back to it whenever possible; and now track the Google Analytics on the map to see how people are using it.

NTEN: Wow! How did you make it happen?

EE: The Deputy Director and I handled most of the policy work and ran the annual survey. Then, with our summer Fellow and Communications Director, we conducted 50 phone interviews that each lasted 30+ minutes, plus additional time for participants to edit our notes.

That summer, we happened to begin contracting with new website developers, a shop called Punk Ave based in Philadelphia. They had created one map for us, and we asked if they could use the same format for a new one.

We entered all of the survey and interview data into the new map so that members can sort by year and policy issue. Bills show up in green if they passed, red if not, orange if they’re pending. Members can view summaries of bills, who worked on them, lessons learned, related resources, and contact info.

NTEN: How did you get buy-in from the rest of your team?

EE: There was some concern, especially because the work coincided with our conference, which is an all-hands-on-deck initiative. Did we have time and capacity to do this? Could it wait for next year?

But the previous report had only been downloaded once. Punk Ave could build a shell into which we could add more details over time, rather than providing all of the data up front. And our Fellow could handle the data entry once it was built. Ultimately, we decided this was a priority. We try to make sure that all of our work is driven by member demand and needs.

NTEN: What went well? Do you have data to prove it?

EE: The map is much more engaging than a 50-page report. In less than three months since the launch, we’ve had over 350 unique views, many return visits, and good anecdotal feedback from members.

The interviews went well because we’ve been very intentional about building and maintaining trust with people in our network. This map is not available to the general public. Its password-protected for members only. People were candid because they trust that this is for the betterment of the education reform movement more broadly.

NTEN: What didn’t go so well? What do you still need to work on?

EE: We’ve made one minor change so far, tweaking the policy categories on the survey and map. We want to keep those as consistent as possible year to year.

We also need to streamline the lengthy interview process. We may need to begin with a quick conversation, then ask people to fill out the survey and capture most of the stories there.

NTEN: Do you have data that will help inform your next moves?

EE: We wanted to better understand our members policy priorities for 2014, so we sent personal emails to 50+ policy directors with a request to fill out another survey. We’ve seen a response rate of over 80% so far, and are integrating these responses into the existing policy map. As legislative sessions start in 2014, we also plan to make updates and even share resources in real time so that the map becomes more of a legislative tracking tool.

This is all in the name of not reinventing the wheel and sharing resources among our membership. It also helps us to reflection and plan.

NTEN: Any advice you’d offer to someone who wanted to tackle a big project like this?

EE: Make sure theres demand from your members. And as you design it, put yourself in their shoes. We asked ourselves:

  • What goals do our state advocates have?
  • What tools do they currently use?
  • How do they get the information they need?
  • Can we share mock-ups and beta versions of the tool?

Overall, the way we conducted the 2013 survey was much more labor intensive, but yielded something much more useful.