Sankey diagram to analyze Relevance

by Sep 22, 2016

Beyond numbers and figures, what I really like to explore is how to use Data Visualization to display qualitative information.

Lately I’ve been mentally exploring how to use Sankey diagrams and I had this idea: it could be used to visually analyze Relevance!

Let’s go step by step:

  1. Sankey diagrams are a specific type of flow diagram, in which the width of the arrows is shown proportionally to the flow quantity. Sankey diagrams are typically used to visualize energy or material or cost transfers between processes. They can also visualize the energy accounts, material flow accounts on a regional or national level, and also the breakdown of cost of item or services (you can see random examples here).
  2. Relevance in Evaluation is understood as the extent to which the aid activity is suited to the priorities and policies of the target group, recipient and donor.
  3. In my opinion, the Relevance criteria in evaluation reports is too text-based and relies almost exclusively on descriptive analysis.

So… Let’s say we are analyzing to which extent the program we are evaluating is relevant to the priorities of the main actors involved. I thought for example that you can place on the left side the objectives or priorities of the local or national authorities, each of them in a box. We could use colors to group them by target group or area or sector.

Below we can place the priorities of the organization’s strategic plan, which the program has to be compliant to as well. And even you can add international treaties or conventions that plan is based on. Other potential actors’ priorities could be added, such as the UN Development Assistance Framework agreed for that country, etc.

Now you can place the objectives of your program on the right side, using the same colors. Then, you could draw lines to see which of the objectives on the left side are present on your program, and you can use the width of the line to represent to which extent they are coincident. There you go! You would using a Sankey diagram to analyze Relevance… like this:

Maybe it is a bit messy at first. But as soon as my visual brain takes a closer look, what stands out for me in this mock-up example is that the program is clearly reflecting its organization’s global priorities (the ones at the bottom, centered), which are also quite clearly responding to an international convention (at the bottom left).

Apart from one clear point for all the them (Gender equity in the example), it is less clear how the program is responding to the national priorities and to the UN Systems’ framework. However, we can see that the program takes some of them partially into account to different extents.

I’m testing something different in a report I’m delivering soon… Let’s see what they (and you) think!

You want to see more Visuals?

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