Friday, November 4, 2016

Two: A Month in the Board Room

When I first shared this month's topic for a data story, I received a lot of quizzical looks in return. A month in the board room? Whaaaa? Why would anyone care about that? But I didn't know why anyone---including me---would care. I wasn't sure what I'd see. However, that is one of my larger goals with this project. I want to find out what happens when we pay attention to data that are typically ignored.

A Month in the Board Room is the second in my "10 for 10" challenge I have set for myself this year. It is my goal to tell ten new data stories in ten months. Truth be told, I'm running a bit behind. There is a huge learning curve with these. What I have in my head is never quite what appears on the board and on the web. I try to remind myself that perfect is the enemy of the good. It is more important to finish and post something rather than wait until everything is just right. If I go that route, I might manage to put up only one of these. I am learning more each month. Maybe by the time I get to number ten---whatever and whenever that will be---I'll be a well-oiled machine in terms of getting things posted.

Working with the Data
On the right, you'll see a mini-version of the display that I built from the data. After selecting a month (February), the data were exported from an Outlook calendar into Excel. Each meeting was coded into one of nine categories after reviewing the full list: teacher/principal evaluation, curriculum, assessment, operations, parent meetings, private groups, special services, district office, and administration.

A basic layout, with time of day across the top and days of the month down the left side, was set up with blocks of time for each meeting in the calendar.

I went through several iterations of color coding. There were several combinations of colors I tried that I actually liked better than the one shown at the right. However, while they looked lovely together in some other types of charts, they looked terrible as big bars. This version seemed not only pleasing on the eyes, but also allowed me to divide the information into things that are initiated from within our department (green) and things that are generated elsewhere (brown).

I knew that I had hit on the right display when I showed it to my boss. He appreciates and supports the work I do, but really isn't all that into data. But when he saw this, he actually started engaging and noticing things. After a minute or two, I pointed out to him that he was talking about which point, he smiled and left. Gotcha.

Just like last month, there is an offline component to the data display---a bulletin board outside my office. The graphic you see above was sent to Costco in two parts and printed as two 16 x 20" photos. A swatch of each color was also sent to be printed as 4 x 6" photos.

This photo is of the board in progress. We have some explanatory text on the left...the poster in the middle (there's more coming) and the "legend" on the right. Each of the swatches is on a card that viewers can lift to see more information about a category, including its name. We decided not to put the names of the categories on the front of the card to encourage viewers to spend some time first trying to interpret or make sense of what they see in the larger poster.

The additions to this display include a second large poster attached over the one you see. The top one has some of the bars turned into options that open and reveal details of the meetings represented. We also have data about occupancy and other meeting spaces attached to the board.

Our companion web page uses an embedded PowerPoint to enable users to see details of every meeting, including links to additional documents and sites. Users can also download a larger data set to explore on their own.

It is my goal to prompt conversation and reflection about data. I am encouraged by the comments I have received about the project and some of the discussions I've had. For example, a couple of people suggested that I not represent weekends on this month's data display. Those days do contribute to a lot of blank space, but it is also an opportunity to think about the importance of what we choose to represent...and what it means when we don't represent something. Sure, our board room is rarely used on weekends, but it just makes me wonder about what activities we might see if we represented what people did when they weren't at work.

Bonus Round
So, what did we learn by representing the data? Maybe no large insights, but it does make it easier to see how different groups access the space. Parent groups are only there in the evenings. Administrators meet either before or after the school day. Special Services only uses the room when no subs would be required. Work around curriculum (science, math, career and technical education, and so on) is the heaviest user. In terms of what we don't see, students are rarely in that space. This is not a surprise. Neither is the lack of meetings around construction and infrastructure---we have a ton of those due to ongoing bond work around the district, but those involved don't need such a large meeting space. If I'd plotted things over the course of the year, I'm sure there would be different patterns revealed, but someone else can take that on.

I am already planning the next one, even as the paint is barely dry on this. At some point in the future, I will have a high school stats class help design a story...and there are plenty of other ideas cooking in the background. I hope that we'll push our data discussions far beyond simple red, yellow, and green-filled cells representing assessment results and into more well-rounded conversations about what we value...and what we do when we don't see those values on display.