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The blog of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Evaluation Office

Archive for November, 2015

Take The Pie, Leave The Pie Chart

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

Evaluation and data visualization folks may disagree on the best pie to serve at Thanksgiving dinner.  Pumpkin?  Pecan?  A nice silk pie made with chocolate liqueur and tofu? (Thank you, Alton Brown.)

You see, the whole point of charts is to give people an instantaneous understanding of your findings.  Your readers can easily discern differences in bars and lines.  In wedges of pie, not so much. Data visualization expert Stephen Few explained the problem during this interview with the New York Times: “When looking at parts of a whole, the primary task is to rank them to see the relative performance of the parts. That can’t be done easily when relying on angles formed by a slice.”

(Note:  This parts-to-whole angle problem may also explain why most of us can’t understand how our Whole Foods pumpkin pie could possibly have eight servings. Eight? Are you kidding me?)

So, for today’s pre-Thanksgiving holiday post, I thought I would point you to some online articles about the much used and much vilified pie chart.

First, here’s an article by American Evaluation Association’s president-elect John Gargani, arguing for retirement of the venerable pie chart.  He make points that are repeated in many anti-pie chart blog posts.  But in the interest of objectivity, you should know that agreement to send pie charts to the cosmic dust bin is not universal. Here’s a post by Bruce Gabrielle of Speaking PowerPoint that describes situations where pie charts can shine.

In general, most experts believe that the times and places to use pie charts are few and far between. If you have found one of those rare times, then here’s a post at Better Evaluation with the design tips to follow.

But for heaven sake, turn off that three-dimensional feature in your pie chart, or in any chart, for that matter. Nobody wants to see that!

And for humorous examples of what not to do, check out Michael Friendly’s Evil Pies blog,

Data Party Like it’s 2099! How to Throw a Data Party

Friday, November 20th, 2015

two funny birthday dogs celebrating close together as a coupleWhat’s a “data party?” We attended a program by evaluator Kylie Hutchinson entitled “It’s a Data Party!” at the AEA 2015 conference last week in Chicago.  A data party is another name for a kind of participatory data analysis, where you gather stakeholders together, show them some of the data that you have gathered and ask them to help analyze it.

Isn’t analyzing the data part of your job?  Here are some reasons you might want to include stakeholders in the data analysis stage:

  • It allows stakeholders to get to know and engage with the data
  • Stakeholders may bring context to the data that will help explain some of the results
  • When stakeholders participate in analyzing the data, they are more likely to understand it and use it
  • Watching their interactions, you can often find out who is the person with the power to act on your recommendations

So how do you throw a data party? First of all you need to know what you hope to get from the attendees, since you may only be able to hold an event like this one time. There are a number of different ways to organize the event.  You might want to consider using a World Cafe format, where everyone works together to explore a set of questions, or you could use an Open Space system in which attendees create their own agenda about what questions they want to discuss.  Recently the AEA held a very successful online unconference using MIT’s Unhangout that could be used for an online Data Party with people from multiple locations.

The kinds of questions Kylie Hutchinson suggested asking at a data party include:

  • What does this data tell you?
  • How does this align with your expectations?
  • What do you think is occurring here and why?
  • What other information do you need to make this actionable?

At the end of the party it might be time to present some findings and recommendations that you have.  Considering the work that they have done, they may be more willing to listen.  As Kylie Hutchinson said “People support what they helped create.”

 

The OERC on the Road at the American Evaluation Association Conference

Friday, November 13th, 2015

As you read this, the OERC’s Karen Vargas and Cindy Olney are attending the American Evaluation Association’s annual conference in Chicago, hearing about the latest and greatest trends in evaluation.  The AEA conference is always excellent, with evaluators from all disciplines sharing their skills, lessons learned, and new approaches to the art and science of evaluation. Look for our favorite topics from this year’s conference in our future blog posts.

In the meantime, you can get your Friday afternoon evaluation fix from the publicly available resources offered at the AEA web site. The AEA 365 blog has daily posts from AEA members that feature hot topics and rad resources on almost every evaluation topic imaginable.  Conference and other materials are archived in the AEA Public Library.  And don’t worry. The OERC will be back to regular weekly postings next Friday.

"Chicago sunrise 1" by Daniel Schwen - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chicago_sunrise_1.jpg#/media/File:Chicago_sunrise_1.jpg
“Chicago sunrise 1” by Daniel Schwen – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chicago_sunrise_1.jpg#/media/File:Chicago_sunrise_1.jpg

 

Infographics – Guide from NIH Library Informationists

Friday, November 6th, 2015

cool infographic elements for the web and print usageThe Medical Library Association’s October 28 webinar was on Data Visualization, presented by Lisa Federer, NIH Library’s Research Data Informationist.  The webinar was a tour of different aspects of data visualization, including information about elements of design, like color, line, contrast and proximity, as well as loads and loads of specific resources for more information.

For those of you who were not able to attend or would like to know more, Lisa Federer has a LibGuide called Creating Infographics with Inkscape, which contains the resources for a class she taught with NIH Informationist Chris Belter.  The LibGuide includes a Power Point from the lecture part of their class. The slides cover design principles and design elements.  Many of the slides have links to resources that you can use to learn more about the topic.  For example:

Vischeck – a cool tool for finding out what your colors in your chart look like to someone who is color blind

10 Commandments of Typography – suggestions for making font combinations that work

The second part of the class is a hands-on section on using Inkscape, a free, open-source graphics program, to make infographics.  Inkscape allows you to use “vector graphics” to design infographics.  What are vector graphics and why use them? You know images that work when they’re small but get all blurry when they get big? Those images are based on pixels. Vector graphics are based on pathways defined by mathematical expressions like lines, curves, and triangles, so they can get larger and smaller without losing any quality. Sounds hard to do, right? Luckily there are tutorials on Inkscape and it’s easier than you might think (you don’t need to know the math…): https://inkscape.org/en/doc/tutorials/basic/tutorial-basic.en.html

If you want to take a look at other vector graphics editors, there are other free ones, like Apache Open Office Draw, or ones you may already own, like Adobe Illustrator.  Comparisons with links to detailed information can be found in Wikipedia’s “Comparison of Vector Graphics Editors.”

Last updated on Monday, June 27, 2016

Funded by the National Library of Medicine under Contract No. UG4LM012343 with the University of Washington.