Last year, the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT) partnered with CCNY to create a special report to improve enrollment, community involvement, and funding strategies as well as strengthen and demonstrate the value of their after-school program.  Over an eleven-month period, CCNY utilized a mixed-methods approach to work with BCAT staff and stakeholders on facilitating logic model development, compiling organizational data and program implementation recommendations, and informing data collection and quality improvement efforts.

BCAT’s mission, as part of Buffalo’s economic and cultural revitalization, is to:

  • Keep youth in school through high school completion and graduation so they are eligible for the post-secondary opportunities the “Say Yes” scholarship program provides to them.  This is achieved by offering a safe space to access high-quality arts instruction and studio space.
  • Assist unemployed or underemployed adults in securing jobs with wages sufficient to support a family.  This is accomplished through NYS Education Department-approved training programs that lead to jobs in the healthcare industry.

The Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT) has a strong interest in ensuring that the programming it delivers makes a positive impact on Buffalo communities and the persons served.  The study looked at both the Adult Workforce Development Program (AWDP) and the Youth Arts Program (YAP).  To condense the study results, CCNY enlisted the help of local graphic design wizards, 12 Grain Studio.  Together, we embarked on a collaborative journey to make key data from this report as digestible and visually appealing as possible (read on for full interview with BCAT, CCNY, and 12 Grain).  The end result was a clear and information-dense one-page summary (pictured below).

We spoke to BCAT’s President and CEO, Gina Burkhardt, CCNY’s lead project evaluator, Dr. Molly Ranahan Arent, and 12 Grain’s co-founder, Laura Duquette, to unpack this process.

1. How did the BCAT project come about?

BCAT: My understanding is that BCAT recognized how important it is to track impact for the various constituents we serve.  Having a logic model/theory of action in place to drive the questions asked, the data collected, and the analyses conducted ensures that the organization is tracking outcomes efficiently and in a timely manner— and using the data to drive productive change and continuous improvement.  It is also important that BCAT has a way to demonstrate an ROI to our funders and to the community.  Part of that is understanding how our adult program moves the graduates off of social/ county/ city support systems to be financially independent (and to what degree this happens over time).  My hope was to have a comprehensive evaluation that could allow BCAT to make more and better claims about impact.

2. Why and how did you decide to create these visual summaries?

CCNY: As part of an early project meeting with BCAT, we identified the need to have to have a one-page summary of the project results that would engage a variety of different audiences – potential funders, BCAT staff and stakeholders, partner organizations, and the broader community. Rather than developing a more traditional, text-based executive summary, Heidi [our Executive Director] brought in the expertise of 12 Grain to help us take our work to the next level.

The CCNY project team met with Laura from 12 Grain to describe the project, share our client’s goals, and do an initial brainstorm for the one-page summary.  Laura asked us a number of questions about color, graphics, and content. We then shared everything we had with Laura from the project, including the proposal, background information, the BCAT website, and early drafts of the report.  The team at 12 Grain took several weeks to immerse themselves in this information.  We then sent a more concise outline of the content we would like to include in the summary, such as sections and headings and data points. 12 Grain prepared a draft and we worked together from their to refine the content.

We integrated the process of developing and refining the visual summary as part of the overall process for the final project deliverables.  We engaged BCAT in all stages of this process and helped to communicate their needs and feedback to 12 Grain.

12 Grain: We create a lot of infographics for our clients and so we’re well versed in consolidating a ton of information into a smaller [single] page of graphics. CCNY has been a long-time client and so having created their brand, it makes sense that they might ask for our help.

CCNY provided the actual report to us along with an overview of what they thought should be included.  We then thoroughly read through the report, reviewed the client websites and researched any other information out there on BCAT so we could get a really good feel for who the client is and what the programming is about.  Next we digitally illustrated a few different styles of graphics that might match the clients branding, chose one that we thought was crisp and concise and began working on a layout.  It is sometimes difficult to consolidate a lot of information onto one page so we started with the most amount of information that could be included and kept scaling back until we had something legible and still functional.  We do all of this portion directly in Adobe Illustrator.  Once we were happy with the layout, we presented to CCNY for their feedback.  After that time, it’s mostly small revisions to numbers and copy.

3. Would you recommend that others create visual summaries as well?  Why or why not?

BCAT: Yes, the visuals are so much easier to digest and they can convey a lot of information in a very concise way.  The visuals should be designed for the sophistication of the audience, i.e., there should be clear, accurate, targeted data that are not cluttered and that don’t try to be too colorful or cute.  The report has not been released but I am hoping the visuals give readers a high level summary that encourages them to want to know/ read more.

4. What challenges arise when creating visual summaries?

CCNY: From an evaluator’s perspective, we had a pretty good idea of how to narrow down the content and the findings from the overall report we had developed from our work with BCAT.  However, we felt challenged on how to organize this information succinctly and present it in a way that was both engaging and clear to digest.  Collaborating with 12 Grain to achieve this goal really helped us to achieve this for our client in this project!

12 Grain: You have to really understand the client and the concept before even thinking about visuals.  Otherwise you end up with something out of brand or out of sync with the project.  This typically happens with new clients who you’re still getting to know.  Then the next challenge is to create a style that hasn’t been done before— or at least isn’t closely related to someone else’s work.  This is a challenge because we’re always inspired by other artists and we’re online all the time.  It’s easy to come up with an idea and not realize you saw something similar six months earlier.  You need to be careful that whatever is created is proprietary.  Lastly, the information itself: when you have a lot to consolidate, you have to be very careful to maintain the correct information in the correct wording.

5. How would you rate the complexity/ challenges of this endeavor compared to similar projects?

CCNY: From my perspective, the integration of the collaboration with 12 Grain really improved both the process and quality of the work that I was able to do on the BCAT project.  As a team, we had to start thinking about the key messages of the research we were doing from the beginning in order to develop the content that 12 Grain needed to create the visual summary.  We also kept thinking, “Who are the intended audiences of this project?”  It really helped us with developing not only the summaries, but the final reports.

12 Grain: CCNY always comes to the table prepared.  We have many clients that want infographics or data driven designs but they don’t have data.  In those instances, we have to dig up the data ourselves and hope it’s current and correct. It is so much nicer to be provided the content and focus on the creative.

6.  What should organizations always have on-hand for a successful collaboration?

BCAT: Communication structures [including] organization staff specifically assigned to be the liaisons to work with the evaluators.

12 Grain: I don’t think they need to have anything on hand— they really need to just make time for a few in-depth meetings and be prepared mentally to answer questions about the full spectrum of what they do. And I always recommend these types of meetings happen in-house with the whole team for multiple perspectives.

7. What do you find often hinders organizations from meaningfully presenting their data?

12 Grain: Expense, I think.  Some clients think about saving money and creating in-house but the final outcome isn’t as good because their staff doesn’t have the experience behind them to know about layout.  Layout is so important because of legibility and attention span.  Also, getting attention in the first place.

8. Why are visual summaries important/ necessary?

12 Grain: Most people are visual learners and current average attention span is just a few seconds.  You can gain something or lose something in those few seconds.  For BCAT, busy funders need to know that their money is being used wisely and for policy makers/local government they need to know that change is happening, in the quickest way possible.  They may not read through a whole report and therefor make untrue assumptions.  With a one-page summary, they have irrefutable numbers in front of them without taking up too much of their time.

The BCAT YAP is open to all high school youth attending Buffalo Public and Charter schools.  It provides students with access to arts-focused classes, college and career counseling, individualized support and academic tutoring, and a healthy snack.  The program is uniquely positioned to provide a positive impact on Buffalo communities and the persons served due to its program model.  Effective outreach and engagement efforts have led to the participation of 248 students in 2017-2018, with 130 youth registered for year-round programming.  Students described a positive impact of program participation, including changes in school-related behavior, relationships, personal growth, and goals and future plans.

Research shows that an arts education is instrumental in fostering creativity, innovation, and emotional well-being.  No wonder then this multi-faceted approach has resulted in a 96% graduation rate amongst high school seniors who attended BCAT.  CCNY is proud to work with organizations who recognize and embrace STEAM as the path to a better future for everyone.

Learn more about YAP and how you can get involved here.

Thanks to BCAT, 12 Grain, and Dr. Ranahan Arent for their time and input.