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No more reports

Hundreds of pages long, full of graphs and charts, and peppered with jargon. You know what we're talking about. Reports. They do serve a purpose, and there are definitely some folk who still prefer to receive paper reports, but you can't escape their faults. Reports are:

  • not good for data
  • out of date quickly
  • not easily updated
  • not easily shared

However, reports are still useful. We create a yearly report for our sponsors about all of the projects and other activity that we've done over the year. It's a great statement of our growth and success. So how do you create a report that isn't a report? By creating a web-page instead. A data-driven web-page. (With a couple of charts - it wouldn't be a report without them!)

Our previous annual reports for our sponsors were all constructed in Google Docs and took weeks to compile, mostly because we would need to collate the data per sponsor from a variety of different places. Thinking about the switch to a web-page version of a report forced us to think about our own data and how we were recording it, which gave us the opportunity to add new measures and review the rest. Questions we asked ourselves:

  • what data have we been recording?
  • what data is missing?
  • what are the important values to our sponsors?
  • what are the important values to ourselves?

Using a previous report as a guide for the layout, we worked through each section to establish which parts could be data-driven. Our dashboard covers a lot of the things we wanted to include in the report - social media stats, website visits, the number of events hosted, the number of people through the door, and more - but they were aggregated for simplicity. For example, over 5000 people visited the space in 2019 but how many of them came to an ODI Leeds event? How many of them attended a specific sponsor event?

Let's look at the 2019 report section-by-section (quicker than it sounds, we promise). The introduction and highlights sections were written for the report. The sponsors section is based on the sponsors page on the main website, which is in turn powered by a CSV file hosted on GitHub. The sponsors are listed in the file in the order of when they became a sponsor and assigned a number accordingly. This number is important, as we will demonstrate later.

The innovation section is a hybrid - partly written and partly data-driven. A big part of our organisation is the physical space that we can offer, as it facilitates innovation and encourages people to connect. We list the organisations that have used our space partly to showcase the appeal of our space, but also to highlight the organisations that are taking active steps to be more innovative. The data-driven part of the innovation section is the list of our innovation events. This too is driven by a CSV file on GitHub because it also populates the 'innovation & hackathons' page on the website. In the general version of the report, every event is listed. But in a sponsor-specific report, only the events that they participated in are listed. This is possible because each innovation event has been tagged with a sponsor number (see above). Some events, like #PlanetData, are so important and broad that they apply to all of the sponsors.

The projects section is very similar to the innovation section - a list of projects started/completed or ongoing through 2019, powered by another CSV file on GitHub, which is also used to make the projects page on the website. Projects have also been tagged with sponsor numbers to represent either relevance to that sponsor or their participation in the project.

The events section works a bit differently to the other sections. We use a Google Calendar for all events. The data is extracted from the calendar and put into a CSV file of events, allowing us to put events on the website and get a total count of events. That's great for a general report and for the dashboard, but what about a sponsor-specific report? Well, we record data about the events that our sponsors book with us. Meetings, away days, workshops. We record which sponsor has booked a room, what type of booking it is, and how many people attended. This data is exported as a CSV (not hosted on GitHub this time :P) and we use the sponsor numbering again to display only the relevant data on the sponsor-specific report. So sponsors can see how many times they used our space, the savings made hiring the space, and more. We also record when sponsors attend other events so they can see, at a glance, how much they have participated in events organised by ODI Leeds or by other sponsors.

The communications section was quite straightforward (and is home to the graphs!) as we collect data about website visits, social media channel engagement, etc. There are some clear outliers, especially on the website visits and Twitter impressions. This was entirely down to the popularity of our petition hexmap when a specific Parliament petition went viral on social media.

The dashboard section is self-explanatory. It is our lovely dashboard inserted into the report, already set to the relevant year. The social, charity and sustainability section is hand-written and summarises the decisions that ODI Leeds have made in terms of supporting charities and/or working on projects that give back. The final section - the future - is written by ODI Leeds founder Paul Connell and makes reference to the open strategy we developed during 2019.

This is our first partially-automated report, so we know there will be changes during 2020 that can make it better, and we have already identified ways of updating our own data practice so that future reports could be more insightful. Creating these yearly reports - both in a general sense and for our sponsors - is a great way to demonstrate our success and the value we have created. But it serves another purpose. It shows that we are 'radically open' and it allows us to challenge ourselves for the year ahead.

A 'report-that-is-not-a-report' is something that all organisations could start doing. They already have the data, they would have a more shareable format (that works on desktop and mobile), they would save some trees in the process, and they would start more conversations by publishing openly.