Interactivity breeds adoption. People hate to be told what to do. Interaction convinces users that it was their idea to begin with. – Darkhose Analytics
When I read that quote the other day, it eloquently said what I’ve always intuitively sensed about interactivity in digital reporting. As researchers and evaluators, we struggle with getting people to deeply engage with our reports. What better way than to encourage them to interact with the data through the use of interactive figures?
In the latest installment of the digital report on Outdoor School in Oregon, I’ve added interactivity through the use of maps. I chose to use maps because a lot of the data is geographical in nature (for example, in what parts of the state is Outdoor School common and where is it less common?).
Map #1: Statewide Participation
On the paper report, I used two side-by-side maps to show where participation is highest and lowest.
But, while this was effective given the limitations of traditional reporting, if we want users to truly engage with the data, we can offer them an interactive map.
The map has three key interactive features.
- You can zoom in to any part of the map to get an up-close look at schools in the area.
- When you click on any school, a popup gives you more information about that school’s participation.
- You can filter to only show schools that participate, don’t participate, etc.
Map #2: Participation by Educational Service District
Oregon uses a system of educational service districts, or ESDs, to manage services for several school districts. For my purposes in reporting on Outdoor School participation, they were a nice way to show a summary of geographic disparities (because ESDs are organized by region). In my report, I made a simple summary bar graph, showing which ESDs have higher and lower percentages of schools doing Outdoor School.
The data and presentation are straightforward. But what if people want to dig deep into this data? I thought of doing some kind of small multiple with this data, but size-wise it was just going to get completely unwieldy in a traditional report. With digital reports, of course, we have no size limitations. What, then, if we encourage people to look at which schools participate and which do not in the various ESDs by showing a set up small multiples maps? That’s exactly what I’ve done in the latest version of digital report. And the same interactive features from the statewide map also exist on each individual ESD map. With these maps people can explore each ESD on its own, looking for interesting patterns in the data.
A Word of Caution
People get excited when you talk about interactive figures. They’ve sexy. But it’s important to recognize when they’re useful and when they’re just pretty affectations. If I had, for example, made the bar graph of ESDs interactive by enabling a pop-up on each bar, it would have been “interactive” but that interactivity wouldn’t have added much (or perhaps anything). My general advice to people considering adding interactive is to not simply replicate existing figures. Doing so rarely takes advantage of what interactivity can offer. Instead, think about how you can present the data differently (hence my small multiples maps of participation by ESD).
Being creative about how you present data and incorporating interactivity can get increased engagement and buy-in from the people reading your reports.