• Joanna Prout, PhD

Using Data Visualization to Boost Engagement in School Mental Health Evaluation

Joanna Prout, PhD

Lead Evaluator, National Center for School Mental Health




Being the program evaluator can be a downer when meetings turn solemn when we get to the “program evaluation” section on the agenda!


To avoid this experience, I wanted to move the evaluation sections of our meetings from confusing numbers and warnings that we were “out of compliance” to times to acknowledge and celebrate the hard work that was being done and provide guidance about how we COULD achieve our goals.


This shift became more urgent with the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic and a national movement calling for racial justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. School mental health providers were working in a bleak and stressful environment; they needed to know that even if it didn’t always seem like it, their work was making a difference.


While I love Excel, showing people worksheets and tables just wasn’t having the intended effect! But, just like there is research to determine what works in mental health, there is research about how to engage people in data reporting. Fortunately, I also had a whole data visualization community available to support me in learning new techniques.


Here is an example and two quick tips:


Number of youth served by clinicians trained is an important indicator in our work– training is important on its own but often people get a greater sense of meaning and satisfaction from knowing that youth and families in their communities got more help because of training.


Spreadsheets like this weren’t working in letting our team understand the impact of their work:



We moved from spreadsheets to this much more effective image by following two guidelines from best practices in data visualization:


  1. Focus on one take-away point – in this case, number of youth reached by clinicians in one year.

  2. Use a reference to physical space (in this case, movie theaters) to give people a better sense of the number.



This visual was made using free software at www.canva.com.

Questions? Comments? Examples of how you have used data viz in your work?

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