I’m a professional evaluator, my job consists of evaluating if a program or a policy is effective, pertinent, efficient and sustainable and if they had a positive (or negative) impact.
I learned about infographics thanks to Twitter and Alberto Cairo in 2011 during a maternity leave, and I have been obsessed with data visualization and its huge potential applications ever since. I told myself I needed to “speak” the visual language too, so I learned to use Illustrator a bit momentarily and I fantasized with maybe going one day to Malofiej. This year, everything seemed to fall into place so I could plan my trip to Pamplona easily ten days before it started.
My first impression was funny. Being used to conferences with more than 3,000 people, the little crowd who attended to the welcome cocktail looked to me like very manageable. Later that evening, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with my visual “idol”, Mr. Cairo, who introduced me to VisuaLoop founder, Tiago Veloso, and I made a toast with toilet water with the amazing Eleanor Lutz (there was no water at the bar… ), so I started the conference with a wonderful feeling of being in an amazing place where I will be hearing merely about one of my biggest passions.
I really enjoyed listening and knowing the work of many of the best visual journalists in the world, and by mid-congress I was kind of looking forward to going back home to start working on improving my technique and infographics.
However, I remarked something very interesting: although infographics and dataviz is a cross-cutting discipline which can be used and foster many other fields (example: Evaluation), Malofiej is a congress created by journalists and addressed to journalists mainly. And professionals from other perspectives like myself had to mentally adapt many of the discussions to our particular field.
Along the process of creating visualizations, the approach of each perspective might hugely differ from other types of professionals: purposes, data sources, audiences and even the people investing in infographics. Here is very simple way of picturing these scenarios, you can appreciate a piece of my conceptual art and my highly sophisticated technique:
In a very simplistic way of modeling the different contexts a visual artist can be working, we could think of which their sources to get data or information are, which audiences they are targeting, who is (financially) supporting them, and which is their ultimate purpose for creating the infographic.
I see a clear pattern in journalism where the objective is to inform the general public of present and past events. Their support usually comes from the media hiring them and the sources are very diverse, from colleagues, internet, research or past events library. And this would be the most common profile, at least in Malofiej.
But lately, many other disciplines have borrowed this tool for conveying information and messages to certain groups or collectivities.
If we take the case of another discipline using infographics commonly, such as marketing, many differences can be noted, the purpose in this case–promoting a brand or product and ultimately selling- being the most remarkable one. The audience is again the general public, though it is considered as potential consumers in this case.
The evaluation context is very different. Data we collect comes from a community –however big it may be- where a program or policy is being implemented. And one of the main audiences of this information –after judging how “good” is that data in their own and other stakeholders’ terms- is the very same community. Staff involved in implementing the program is another source and recipient of the information at the same time. Donors and other decision-makers are of course part of the users of that information. The purpose might vary but it is usually to learn and understand how is the program working and how it is affecting the population, where evaluators are acting at some level like journalists of one aspect of their own lives.
We could model many more professions or fields where infographics are being used, such as in education, science, politics analysis, economy and many others. However, comparing the two fields which stimulated this reflection –journalism and evaluation- we can find that they have something in common: their need to communicate, their work for the “truth” to be known and their promotion of transparency (truth as a construct, in the case of evaluation) and their ultimate desire to fight against unfair situations.
*Sara Vaca is a professional evaluator of international programs and policies, assessing its pertinence and impact (www.EvalQuality.com, @VisualBrains). She is Spanish but she is based in Southern France.