One of the reactions I get when talking with people about digital reporting is: wow, sounds great, but that must take a lot of technical knowledge. In some cases, this is true (I’m available for hire). In others, though, it’s not. You (yes, you) can do digital reporting with a few tools that are free and easy to use.
I recently had the opportunity to make a digital report for DC-based evaluation firm MNA. It focused on their work evaluating the Summer Arts and Learning Academy program run by Young Audiences of Maryland (YAMD). This program offers Baltimore City students, many of whom lack educational opportunities in the summer and thus suffer significant learning loss, the chance to participate in arts activities that also tie directly to literacy and math learning outcomes.
MNA produced a traditional written report for YAMD on the Summer Arts and Learning Academy program, but also wanted to share their findings with a wider audience.
Digital reporting is a great way to ensure report findings reach a wider audience
When MNA CEO Kavita Mittapalli asked me to put together a digital report, I knew I wanted to do it in a way that could creatively share the report’s findings, and demonstrate to other evaluators that doing digital report is something they themselves can do without any special software or knowledge.
As I’ve argued before, reproducing static reports online is not the answer. With that in mind, the report has four elements that take advantage of the digital platform.
In my recent post on making digital reports truly digital, I wrote:
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.
For the YAMD Summer Arts and Learning Academy report, adding a video was simple. I went to the YAMD YouTube channel, found one that provided the best overview of their summer programming, and embedded it on the MNA website. With WordPress, which is what MNA’s website uses, it’s as simple as pasting the link to the video (with other software, it’s almost always just as easy).
The static report tells the reader that the Summer Arts and Learning Academy took place at four sites. The digital report shows it. With this map in digital form, readers can see where the schools are located. Those with knowledge of Baltimore will be able to gather information about the areas they are located in simply by looking at this map.
The map is made with Google Maps, using the My Maps feature. I simply searched for the school locations, plotted them, saved my map, and then used the embed feature to place the relevant code on the MNA website. The WordPress website has a good overview of how to do this (the process will be similar if you are using different website software).
Instead of simply replicating the graphs from the report itself, I used Datawrapper to recreate digital versions of them. Datawrapper is a free service (there is also a paid tier with additional features) that allows you to easily import and display your data through easy-to-read, attractive, and natively digital graphs.
YAMD has tons of photos available online. With permission from the organization to use them, I incorporated them into a section of the report where students and parents talked about their experiences with the Summer Arts and Learning Academy. I used the free Soliloquy Slider plugin to overlay quotes on top of photos, creating an attractive way to share this piece of data.
You can do digital reporting
Creating this report for MNA, the tools I used were all easy to use and free! I added a video from YouTube, a map from Google, graphs from Datawrapper, and photos using the Soliloquy Slider. If you’re new at this type of thing, it may take a bit of time to work through some kinks, but it’s definitely doable. Digital reporting need not be the exclusive province of organizations with big budgets. You (yes, you) can do it too!