Welcome to the second part of our series on Data Visualization in the Public Sector ETL. We’ve already touched on using data visualization to leverage the output of an ETL process for data management in a nonprofit or government agency. Now, we’ll take a closer look at the importance of graphical representations as a persuasive tool for stakeholders.

Why You Should Put Effort into Data Visualization

Data visualization is becoming increasingly popular since the wide-spread availability of statistical analysis tools. In the public sector, cost is often prohibitive when it comes to adopting new technologies. However, there are many low cost software options available for data visualization , including Tableau. The beauty of Tableau is manifested in its ease of use. It can connect to various Data Warehouses and, once setup, little expert knowledge is required to produce visualizations for reports and presentations. Therefore eliminating the need to hire on a full-time employee to manage data visualization and the creation of dashboards.

Stakeholders who often control funding for your organization, are not always subject matter experts in your focus area. Even when a stakeholder may be an expert in the subject, they may not be an expert in interpreting data, particularly raw data. Visual representations of data make it faster and easier to understand, which is an integral part of clinching funding approval.

A Dashboard Example

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the primary federal entity that collects and analyzes data and statistics relating to education, annually releases data from a National Public Education Financial Survey. After survey data passes through their data pipeline, they publish it publicly. However, for each of the 56 U.S. states and territories there are  about 133 columns of data (about 7,448 data points). Handing a document such as this to a federal legislator trying to make a decision about whether to increase funding for education would take hours of sorting and data exploration by their aides to interpret. Instead, the NCES would most likely provide the legislator with the data set, but then would also provide graphical representations of key findings in order to present their story.

Putting It All Together

As you can see from the dashboard above, states in the Southeast and the U.S. Territories have the lowest graduation rates. They also have the lowest average revenue per state/territory and the lowest average net expenses. Finally, these regions also have the lowest difference between their average revenue and net expenses.

Showing these main points helps fill in the details of a narrative such as, “Regions dedicating less funding towards education perform the lowest in terms of graduation rates.” Someone need not have expert knowledge of public finance to be able to see the conclusions presented in the dashboard, making this information available to a much larger audience. The data no longer become a resource for your accounting or finance team, but also people at the top who have the power to make major decisions.

That’s a Wrap!

That is the key here. The output of any ETL must be consumable. If you take the time and effort to collect and transform data, having a huge database has little utility if there isn’t something like a dashboard to display the metrics. The benefits extend beyond persuading stakeholders as they also allow your organization to make data-driven strategic plans. For example, your can create dashboards in Tableau that pull in real-time information, so as more data flows through your pipeline, you can immediately see it displayed.

If you’re not already using visuals to leverage your data, I hope this has convinced you not only of its importance, but also how easily this can be incorporated into your existing data pipeline. Comments are open below, so please feel free to ask questions and leave examples of how data visualization has helped your public sector organization!