March 26, 2018

Reimagining how we communicate our research and evaluation findings

In the age of information overload, creative ways of communicating complex information in concise yet meaningful ways are desperately needed. For the Zenex Foundation, which prides itself in being evidence-based, this need is more palpable given that research and evaluation findings are invariably presented in text-heavy, bulky reports. To foster sharing and learning, these reports need to be effectively disseminated in a way that allows audiences to easily engage with the information. Better engagement promotes uptake and utilisation. Enter Data Visualisation - the buzzword in communicating concepts relying more on visuals rather than only on text.

Why Data Visualisation

Data Visualisation (commonly referred to as DataViz) is fast gaining ground as the preferred way of presenting data and information. By its very nature, it makes data accessible and is appropriately targeted to different audience groups. This is important in the education sector where communication is directed to many stakeholders, from learners and teachers, to academics and government officials.

The Zenex Foundation recognised a need to deepen DataViz skills for its own dissemination. The Foundation hosted a practical one-day workshop on Data Visualisation on 1 March 2018, presented by renowned Data Visualisation specialist, Sara Vaca, from Montech, France. Vaca is an expert in illuminating qualitative data with the objective of making evaluation more transparent and accessible to different audiences. The workshop participants included Zenex partners from the government, donor, NGO and Monitoring and Evaluation community.

The essence of good information design

The session with Vaca dug deep into the art of DataViz for Monitoring and Evaluation. Participants were taken through the purpose and principles of DataViz, and how to critically think about visuals to maximise the impact of presenting data and information for the education field. Vaca provided practical advice and skills for ways in which organisations can make their information more visual, while keeping content at the centre of the visuals. The essence of good information design is depicted in the visual below.


data visualisation


Do’s and don’ts in Data Visualisation

Vaca shared a few Dos and Don’ts for effective DataViz - outlined in the table below



  • Understand what you want to communicate and the audience before you start
  • Stick with the defaults
  • Start with sketching before moving to digital
  • Bog down the reader with too much data in graphics
  • Design from scratch, rather than use default templates
  • Add anything to the visual (colour, line, shape) that does not signify anything
  • Tweak default templates to fit your message
  • Remove everything that is removable


The intersection between the information age and the digital revolution presents an opportunity to leverage new skills for sharing in digestible and useful ways. A common theme that reverberated among the participants was that the time has come to reimagine how we disseminate data and information to advance knowledge and growth. Workshop participants had the following to say about DataViz:

“Use more dataviz and fewer words to make communication clearer and more impactful.” - Kimon Phitidis, Managing Director, Social Innovations.

“One does not have to rely on templates on Microsoft only. Play around with options until [you are] happy.” – Desi Magwiro, MQA Coordinator, National Education Collaboration Trust.

“Always ensure that the reader is kept in mind when writing and visualising.” – Thabang Matobako, Director, Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership and Governance.

“In data visualisation, the scale and colour of any text or object should be significant of something.” – Regina Murerwa, Monitoring & Evaluation Officer, Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation – Adopt-a-School Foundation

“Less can be more. Colour can speak. Size display can impact.” – Asiya Hendricks, MQA Coordinator, National Education Collaboration Trust.

Click here to view the whole presentation with Data visualisation resources and techniques.