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Data Storytime for Volunteers: A Process Improvement Example

Over the next few weeks, I am presenting sessions on data, visualizations, and storytelling, the date-literacy skill of turning insights into action. This led me to uncover what may have been the first data story I remember telling.

I was shaping a story for hospital volunteers. My goal was to encourage action and to drive actionable insights. And we did so with an interactive data dashboard mounted on posterboard and a series of pre-shift huddle communication.


Every Visitor, Every Time may have been my very first data story of which I am aware of sharing.

An out-of-town friend employed in institutional research was intrigued by my work. In town one weekend in 2017, she had me share this data story in a brief clip that is barely under two minutes. I proceed to explain to this colleague the story of insights turned into action. It may indeed be my first data storytelling of which I am aware. From insight through action, I apply a solid business analysis approach.

Let me share the journey with you...


My inspiration came from the IHI’s 27th Annual National Forum on Quality Improvement in Health Care in 2015. I was intrigued by the real time improvements that were being made because of the effective sharing of data. I didn’t realize that I was about to create a series of visualizations that would become the first dashboard I ever created, albeit a low tech one. It would create an example of process improvement for volunteers.

Intellectually curious and analytical, I was intrigued by the process improvement process and how it generated change and impacted experience in measurable ways. These things resonated with me. I set out to apply these principles to an aspect of our volunteers' activities. I wanted to increase the visitor-escorting behavior of volunteers.


I knew my purpose and my audience, then I had to figure out how to gather the data I needed. I needed to know how many people entered the building and, of those, how many did we personally escort to their destination.

I started phase one of an initiative that would eventually become known as “Every Visitor, Every Time”. In order to make the initiative more appealing to the mostly senior volunteers in my population, I decided to use a low tech approach. This proved to be an excellent choice.


Before I could make a goal for escorts, I needed a baseline of how many people walked in our front doors every day. Through a process that took eventually seven months to get five months of clean data, I was able to extrapolate approximately how many people we had coming into our hospital every day.

To establish that baseline, three people during each shift were given a simple hand held people counter. Those three people (two volunteers and a paid staff person) would, between the hours of 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM, count how many people walked through the front door into the hospital. This redundancy was in place so that at the top of each hour the numbers could be averaged giving us a better idea the accuracy. I wanted approximately 20 weeks of clean data to ensure a reliable count. It took us close to seven weeks to get everyone on board and to get data reporting coming in consistently for each shift. Now we had an idea of the volume of visitors entering the hospital and could create a reasonable target for improvement.

A female hospital visits with an older woman in a wheelchair


I was intentional in what I was collecting and why. I knew my end objective. I knew my end audience. While I knew that communicating these results to administration would likely be an outcome, my sole intended audience at the moment of storytelling origin were the volunteers themselves.

I needed them to connect their simple activity of escorting visitors to the greater patient experience.

A Process Improvement Example for Volunteers

This was a process improvement. Observation had brought the realization that not every visitor coming in those front doors was getting escorted to their destination. Sometimes verbal directions were given and fingers pointed toward distant elevators when there was physical volunteer present. But I wanted and I believed that Every Visitor, Every Time should be escorted. Even if it was just across the hall to admitting just to check in.

I wanted to ensure the best possible patient experience started with our volunteers.


Now that I have an idea of approximately how many people were walking in our main door, I needed to know the percentage of those that volunteers were personally escorting to their destination.

Again, a low-tech method was selected for easy of adoptability and immediate use. Volunteers used a tic and tally sheet separated out by three chunks of time. These chunks of time were based on our shift time divisions. We had a morning shift, an afternoon shift, and then evening shift; volunteers would simply make a tally mark in the appropriate box for each visitor they personally had escorted.


Throughout this process we were in constant communication with our volunteer stakeholders. We were able to build the enthusiasm. Volunteers became excited by the feedback and the impact they were making. And we were doing this in real time, with low tech.

Leading a highly engaged hospital volunteer team has been one of the legacies of my leadership, but I think it has much to do with effectively communicating impact and not assuming volunteers understand how effective their time is in meeting the needs your organization. Don't assume the data speaks for itself, be intentional in explaining it.

A man with a clipboard and shirt reading "volunteer" leads a group meeting with other volunteers.


Like many volunteer populations, ours were on site at different times and often infrequently, some only coming once every other week. The low-tech option proved to be the best tool in that environment. The visual management board was placed in the volunteers' locker room where they would see it at the beginning and end of each shift. A paid staff person in the immediate environment was asked to conduct a quick one-minute huddle at the start of each shift.

They would point out the data from yesterday, what the goals were for today, and remind them of the purpose. It took a few weeks for consistency in reporting, but not as long as it had taken with the initial count. Friendly competitive spirit kicked in as did pride; volunteers became enthusiastic because there was a clear story getting told and they were the hero.

Benefits to low tech include that it was fast, easy to implement, familiar and thus had little to no learning curve. No password or login issues. No technical difficulties at all.


While it is tempting to think that you need powerful BI tools to tell an effective data story, the best tools used are the ones that will move our audience from insight to action. The real key to communicating with data is to know what you are measuring and why and to whom you plan to tell the story. A simple interactive posterboard is just one example of a low-tech process improvement visualization.

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Roseanna Galindo, ECBA, CAVS

Roseanna Galindo is Principal at Periscope Business Process Analysis and a champion for data literacy, the human experience in healthcare, and volunteer leaders everywhere. Learn more about Roseanna and her blog, The Periscope Insighter, by reading the opening post, Venn The Time Is Right.


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