New focus & feel: Communicating Data

To those of you who have been with me since I started this blog when I returned from Kenya a few years back, thank you for the patience you’ve had with my bursts of activity punctuated by months of busy silence when work, travel, technical assistance visits, and life have taken precedence over channeling my thoughts and energy into sharing on more general topics around health and development.

BLOG_dowellIt seems fitting that late on a Friday in Pretoria, while I’m here to work with one of our health information projects, I decided to dedicate my evening to refocusing this blog on what I do every day & read about in my free time: the intersection of data and communications. I’m still learning, but this intersection hits that “hooray!” sweet spot in the center of this Venn diagram from innovative problem solver Bud Caudell.

I’ve discovered (over the course of many introductions) that I have what is considered a unique day job: I spent around 70% of my time on technical monitoring, evaluation, and research projects, while the other 30% or so is dedicated to effectively communicating about our M&E work. Seems these two sectors are seen as somewhat divorced by a lot of development people I talk to. M&E techies are the people who love long indicator definitions and dense reports, while communications dilutes the nuances of the M&E messages, or something like that.

I disagree with that prerogative. There is no better opportunity for synergy and support across two areas inside an organization than between the people designing the systems, collecting and analyzing the data and those whose purpose is to communicate the successes, achievements, and learning from an organization: M&E and communications are natural bedfellows of sorts, and need each other to maximize effectiveness and reach.

As we continue to move into an era where data visualization reigns supreme and we have more data available to use than ever before, that relationship between M&E and communications will only grow in importance and, consequentially, opportunity. With the volume of data available, the importance of having capable data wranglers and analysts grows, and communications staff are challenged to distill what should be shared and with whom. From a drive from donors and the public for more results driven communication around results (both for large government-funded projects and nonprofits) to the movement in countries around the world to electronic health information systems with dashboard features of varying levels of complexity to support the use of data for decision making, the opportunities are endless.

Instead of focusing on more general development matters, I’ll be writing on my work in this odd intersection of data and communications, data visualization, supporting the use of routine health data for decision making, and results-based reporting to help the data reach the right audiences, who can translate data into action. I’ll also be sharing visualizations and infographics that I love, ideas that I find inspiration in, and other miscellaneous thoughts at least tangentially to this core topic of Communicating Data.

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2 thoughts on “New focus & feel: Communicating Data

  1. I’m a comms guy with a social-sciences MSc, and I’ve ended up in Namibia at this odd intersection too: speaking with government officials on data visualization, ongoing projects with the M&E team next to me. I’ve agreed for years that M&E and comms should work hand in hand from the get-go – really looking forward to your next posts.

  2. Reporting and utilization is crucial! Too many M&E specialists focus on the technicalities and complexity of designing systems and analyzing the data such systems collect…there’s a definite lack of critical thinking around WHY we do M&E and WHO benefits from it. If this conversation were prioritized more often, communications and reporting would rise close to the top in importance. I look forward to reading more as you delve into the intersection of data and communication!

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