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How To Beautifully Visualize M&E Results in Microsoft Excel

By Guest Writer on January 26, 2015

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Excel gets a bad rap for data visualization. I get it. I can barely stand to look at these ugly charts. Can you imagine sending a client something like this? To be honest, I can barely see the patterns that are supposed to be highlighted in these charts.

How are stakeholders supposed to make decisions based on data if they can even see the data? So what’s an M&E specialist to do? Abandon Excel entirely and run for the hills?

Hang in there.

Did you know that Excel can also make these?

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With a little elbow grease and creativity, you can design dot plots, unit charts, side by side bar charts, diverging stacked bar charts, slope charts, span charts, and more in Excel.

Sometimes all you need is a little formatting. You’ve got to de-emphasize the least important sections of the chart, like the border, grid lines, and tick marks. Then, you’ve got to emphasize the valuable pieces, like the descriptive titles and subtitles shown below.

Swapping out that default color scheme for customized colors that match your stakeholder’s logo doesn’t hurt either. (P.S. Want to make this yourself? I’ve got a tutorial.)

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Other times, you’ve got to switch up the chart type altogether. You might need to toss your clustered bar chart and use a small multiples bar chart in its place. (Yep, there’s a tutorial for this one too.)

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And speaking of small multiples layouts, Excel’s got your covered. Just create separate charts for each series of data, like one mini chart per country, region, organization, etc.

Stakeholders will thank you for providing them with disaggregated data—the data about their unique organization that they care about—rather than just aggregated sums, means, and medians. (Like small multiples? I thought you might. I’ve got more examples here.)

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I hope I’ve shown you Excel in a whole new light. How are you using tools like Excel to communicate your M&E results to stakeholders?

Ann K. Emery, M.S., is an independent consultant who specializes in data visualization and evaluation capacity building.

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2 Comments to “How To Beautifully Visualize M&E Results in Microsoft Excel”

  1. Roger Wong says:

    Great post Ann! Just wanted to put the word out on a service from Ona called RealTime XLS Reports that can generate these kinds of Excel dashboards and visualizations with the most recent data (so you can design it once and automatically get a new report whenever data comes in). We’ll have examples up soon at http://company.ona.io/reports/

  2. Thanks Ann!
    Excel is very under utilized at most places.