Evergreen Data’s Jenny Lyons is back with more ideas for visualizing qualitative data.

Engaging our audiences in the complex, intricate stories of our qualitative data can be difficult. Make qualitative comparisons come alive with change photos or graphics. The hurricane this past year in Puerto Rico left many devastated and without power, homes, and community. It is hard to imagine the damage that was done. One of the best ways to visualize the impact is through a photo pair like this:

Photo credit: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images

This combination of photos  shows (above) cars driving through a flooded road in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017 and (below) the same highway six months later. Even still, six months after Hurricane Maria hit the island, many remained without power. Photos like this make the change and impact come to life, way more than a simple narrative story. The damage done is staggering.

When we teach people about the power of data visualization at Evergreen Data, we often use change photos. We will even take our clients own data and past visuals and redesign them. It is often these before and after visuals that win people over. Below is an example from a blog Stephanie wrote on the transformation of some business slides.

I want to challenge you to think both abstractly and literally about visuals that could visualize your qualitative findings.

Example 1: During key informant interviews you learned that by implementing a new health advocate program at the health center, clients felt like the process of being connected to services became streamlined rather than the usual complicated steps and missed referrals.

One way to think abstractly thing about this is with a road.  Before this program, clients had to navigate a complicated and windy road from point A to B.  With this new resource program, health advocates help clients go from point A to B down an easy, simple road.

Beside these change photos you could include some client quotes that are associated with the finding.

Example 2: When surveying staff, you found that before the non-profit program started using a new data entry and database management system, data was entered and stored in many different ways. Basically, data collection and management were a hot mess. Once the new program was implemented, data are cleaned and organized in a stress-free accessible manner.

The great thing about this example compared to the last one is that it uses real images. When I look at that pile of haphazard papers, it gives me anxiety because I can more realistically imagine this scenario. Using real photos over diagrams or graphics is always best if you have the choice.

Example 3: You found during a series of focus groups that clinicians didn’t have a team to work to solve programs with felt isolated, stressed, and alone. They were less likely to serve clients with innovative solutions. When clinicians worked on a team to support clients, they were more efficient and confident in the services they provided.

If you can’t use photos of the actual clinicians in the study, you can build a set of change photos using paid stock photo sites. First, I searched on “stressed doctor” at Shutterstock. I found one image I liked and clicked it. Below the image, you’ll see a set of photos with the same model, so I can quickly locate the same “clinician” looking happier (and apparently drinking a beer, too).

No matter your project scope or the availability of photos or resources, I encourage you to brainstorm ways to visualize your qualitative story. When examining the findings associated with your project, think of both literal and abstract ways to pull at people’s visual brain and heart strings by using change photos.

Until next time!

<3 Jenny

PS. This post is a preview of what’s to come in the second edition of Effective Data Visualization. We have overhauled the chapter on qualitative visualization. You’re going to love it! Expect it to hit the shelves next Fall.