Last week, when I wrote a post calling for evaluators to embrace digital reporting, I also wrote that “simply putting our static reports online is not the answer.” This week, I’m going to show how to take a report and incorporate truly digital elements into it. Instead of just recreating my existing Outdoor School report online, I’m adding three elements — navigation, videos, and creative use of images — that take advantage of the possibilities that digital reporting makes possible.
Check out the new report in action (you might consider opening it in a new tab so you can follow along) by clicking here or on the image below.
Element 1: Navigation
Static reports of the PDF/paper variety are often hard to navigate. How often have you found yourself flipping through pages trying to find the section you want to read? Digital reports make this problem a thing of the past. In version 2 of the Outdoor School digital report, I’ve added a sticky navigation bar at the top that allows the reader to go to the exact section they want to read. Maybe a reader is only interested in overall Outdoor School participation stats. They can go directly to that section. Maybe another reader only cares about Measure 99. They can get to that section with a single click.
I’ve also added navigation on to the key findings section of the executive summary. Since we know that many people never get past the executive summary, a quick link that takes them to the exact section of the report that has more information on the topic they’re interested is a way to engage readers more deeply in the findings.
While we might like to think that people read every single word of our reports, the reality is that they don’t. They jump to the information they need, read that, and call it a day. Given this, why not make it easier for them to get what they need?
Element 2: Video
One of the most fundamental maxims of good writing is: show, don’t tell. If we take this maxim and apply it to digital reporting, one natural application is to incorporate video into our reports. Instead of paragraphs of descriptions of programs, we can embed a video that shows the program in action.
This is exactly what I’ve done with my Outdoor School report. At the start of the introduction, the user is presented with a video showing what Outdoor School is. The 4 minutes of this video do a far better job of describing Outdoor School than any amount of text could (and the video is far more engaging).
I’ve also embedded a couple other videos in relevant parts of the report. Knowing that many people will not be familiar with Measure 99, I include a video news report from the Associated Press. And in the section on Outdoor School sites, I include a video showing one of the sites that hosts schools.
Element 3: Creative use of images
The static report that I wrote for this project incorporated images. However, not wanting to make the report too long or overburden printers, I was judicious in limiting the number and size of images I used.
With digital reporting, I can use as many images as I want to make the report as engaging as possible. I had access to many large, high-resolution photos from Outdoor School programs across the state, and I was able to use several of them as background images for each section. Where long, text-heavy reports lead to droopy eyelids, the visual appeal of these images encourages users to continue to read the report.
Think beyond the “report”
When I wrote recently of making reporting a verb again, I argued that we should recognize that reports are a means to the end of improved programming. Incorporating this insight into digital reporting, it is important not to simply recreate a static report online. In many cases, using the noun-version of the word “report” can discourage us from thinking creatively about how to present information. When doing digital reporting, we have access to so many ways to organize and present information. Incorporating navigation, using videos to “show, not tell,” and using bold images are just three ways to help us think more deeply about how to engage users in the findings we work so hard to come up with.