Training the team at Operation Fistula

Tableau is a central part to what we do at Operation Fistula. Not just to my work, but to our mission overall. We use data visualisation to show other actors in the not-for-profit sector the importance of data, and the insights we can gain if we collect and analyse it properly. We believe that this is a critical part of helping women with obstetric fistula, primarily because within the fistula sector, data collection and analysis efforts are highly fragmented. We also believe that Tableau is the best tool to do this, and we believe in Tableau’s mission to give every member of an organisation the power to find and develop their own insights.

So, we have set ourselves a goal: every full-time staff member in our core office (currently a team of 7, including me) will have built at least one dashboard that they can use in their everyday work, by the end of the year. trained up, so that they can achieve this goal. I have delivered training courses before, but these tended to be one-off sessions, rather than prolonged training and development programmes. So, this will be a learning process for me as well, and I want to share my journey for those of you who might be in the same situation.

The challenges

The first big challenge will be time. Apart from our analytics assistant Chloe, none of the people receiving training have analytics as a dedicated part of their job description. In a small charity like ours there are always a million things to do, and finding time to learn a new skill, that doesn’t show immediate benefit to the team’s everyday work, will be difficult.

The second challenge will be that my colleagues have a wide variety of data literacy skills. Some of them have never worked with data, and are just getting used to the concept of a dashboard, others have completed highly numerical degrees. Training will need to be adjusted to accommodate this diversity of experience, whilst also remaining challenging for everybody, to their individual levels of comfort. In addition, the goals will also be different for everybody, with some just wanting to grasp the basics so they can create simple charts for themselves, and others aiming to be super users.

Supporting factors

On the other hand, there are a few aspects that will really help us.

Firstly, we are incredibly grateful for the support from the Tableau Foundation, which includes free credits that we can use for official Tableau Classroom training. In addition, we also have access to the e-learning materials. This means that our limited funds won’t limit our ability to become a truly data driven organisation.

Secondly, there is enthusiasm, which is driven from the top. Our CEO and Founder Seth Cochran fully supports Tableau, and our goal to get the organisation trained up. This is hugely important, as training will take time away from other tasks, and leadership needs to believe in the value of this training, and allow this operational allocation of time and resources. In addition to this senior-level support, I can also feel that the rest of the team is on board, and excited to learn a new skill.

Chloe and Bryony at their Tableau Fundamentals Training

The plan

  1. Every member of the team is signed up for classroom training. Five team members have already completed this, the final will follow in September. Where possible, I tried to sign people up in pairs so that they could support each other during the training. It’s also a great opportunity to get to know each other a little better. A comfortable team environment will make for a much more conducive learning environment.
  2. We have a one-hour weekly session every Monday after our team meeting booked until October. Having these sessions scheduled directly after a recurring meeting which everyone attends, will hopefully mean higher attendance. I plan to remain flexible, however, and will see if these training sessions might be better if moved to a different time in the week. If someone isn’t around for a session, they can try to complete the content on their own, and afterwards arrange a time to follow-up with me for questions and clarifications.
  3. I will be preparing materials for these sessions, and as a group we will complete exercises for practising existing knowledge, learn new content, and take part in #MakeoverMonday.
  4. This content will start out with very generic, clean data, to focus on the techniques of building charts. As we move on to asking questions of our data, I will also pick topics that are more relevant to our cause, and try to use internal data where possible.
  5. I post content every day on Slack. Team members are encouraged to engage with this, but it is optional. Anything posted can be completed in less than 10 minutes, and could be anything from a quick training video, an engaging visualisation, or a helpful article to refresh knowledge on a particular topic. This has the purpose of keeping knowledge fresh between the weekly sessions, and fitting in that extra bit of training that someone might be able to do between meetings
  6. I am also handing over analytics projects for people to do themselves. So, when someone comes to me with a request, I assess how much of it they could do themselves. Then I give them a time frame, and a task, and let them have a go themselves, while having me around for questions. We then have a meeting to review what they have done, and have a guided session where I challenge them to push this further. At present, I plan to then take the dashboard from there and polish it, especially if it is to be used in external communications.


Over the next few months I will be curious to see how this plan changes, and what unexpected challenges arise.

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