It’s 2019 and our annual report is done–is yours?

We’re at the start of 2019 and Tableau Foundation’s 2018 annual report is already done. Non-profit and foundation annual reports usually take six to nine months to produce and release, sometimes spending six figures to pull everything together.

Regrettably, these well-manicured and polished annual reports contain charts and figures that are woefully out-of-date by the time they make their way into anyone’s hands.

Our Living Annual Report has been in place for the past three years and refreshes weekly with new grants, donations, and figures without any substantive work on our part. We host it on Tableau Public so anyone can view it and we embed it in a variety of other places, including our website and below.

Why we built and maintain this report

  1. To be accountable and transparent to our non-profit partners, Tableau employees, and the rest of the philanthropic community
  2. To highlight organizations we’re supporting and the amazing work they’re doing
  3. To drastically cut the amount of time required to answer questions—our own and others—with our data

I’ve written about the Living Annual Report on this blog before (here and here) and delivered a session at Tableau Conference, but something I haven’t shared is the process of changing the design of the Living Annual Report.

Unlike a traditional, printed annual report, the Living Annual Report can be updated whenever you want or need it to be. This is most often a data refresh so you’re showing the most current data, but you also have the flexibility to change what visualizations you’re presenting, the overall look and feel of the workbook, and how users interact with the visualizations.

If you’re used to preparing a static or printed annual report, being able to make changes in minutes and have those changes reflected in every copy that exists in the world is an enormous change. For us, it’s given us the ability to build easy responses to questions people couldn’t answer before, correct errors and omissions, and even change the way the report feels over time.

Best practices for changing your Living Annual Report

Once you have your own Living Annual Report, here’s what I’ve found are best practices when making changes.

  1. Be open to feedback—and not just the obvious kinds.
    Some feedback that will help you improve your Living Annual Report will be obvious. A more direct example is when a co-worker tells you she can’t answer a specific question using your report. The richest feedback will be less apparent: watching a partner navigate your report and not seeing a filter or not realizing that a specific type of data is omitted from a visualization.
  2. Keep the same dashboard dimensions and names across versions.
    If you have your visualization embedded in your website, or if others have done the same, changing dimensions or dashboard names could cause the embed code to break. If you keep the same dimensions and dashboard names, your updates will be seamlessly reflected in all the places your visualization is embedded.
  3. Continue to ensure you’re designing for readers, and not yourself.
    With some early versions of our Living Annual Report, we used Tableau lexicon to refer to our work. For example, we grouped grants by the program they fell under. We understood this lens, since that was the language our team used every day, but it wasn’t useful for anyone outside of our team. By changing the way we looked at our grants, we had to step outside of our bubble of familiarity to make the visualizations more accessible and useful to everyone else.

How to build your own Living Annual Report

If you’re interested in building your own Living Annual Report, here are some resources available to you.

  1. Build your own Living Annual Report with this Tableau template.
  2. Get help from our experts in the Tableau Service Corps. Any non-profit organization can receive free project assistance from our Tableau experts—just browse through our volunteers and reach out to one to start.
  3. Contact us and tell us what you’re trying to do! We love to hear from people trying to streamline their operations and do away with a paper annual report.

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