Understanding Filters in Power BI

When you run a Power BI report on data.davidson.edu or the Power BI Service, the Filters pane is located rather inconspicuously on the right side of your screen. The Filters pane is collapsed by default, but you can expand it by clicking it once. Once it is expanded, you can resize it by clicking and dragging the left edge.


Types of Filters

There are three levels of filters in Power BI: report, page, and visual.

Report-level filters are those that affect all of the data in the report, regardless of what you're looking at. Think of them as universal filters.

Page-level filters only filter the data on a given page, which makes them useful for creating pages that focus on particular subsets of your data. For example, you can use page-level filters to make one page focus solely on revenue data, while the next page focuses on expense data. Page-level filters operate within the context of the report-level filters, which means that a page-level filter cannot override a report-level filter. They also cannot be programmed to filter the data on other pages.

Visual-level filters only filter the data on a given visual, whether that's a table, chart, card, slicer, etc. These are the most granular filters you can apply to your data, and they operate within the context of both the page-level and report-level filters, which means visual-level filters cannot override them, nor can they be programmed to filter data on other visuals.

This hierarchy is important to understand, and is visible inside the Filters pane whenever you're viewing a Power BI report. The screenshot below shows all three levels of the filter hierarchy together. In this example, I have clicked on a chart in my report, and the Filters pane shows me the filters that are active on that chart. 

Filtering Modes

Each filter has two modes you can use when running your report: Basic Filtering and Advanced Filtering.

In Basic Filtering, you are given a list of values which is scrollable and searchable. To search for a value, simply type a keyword or identifier into the search box, and the list of available values will automatically update based on the search criteria you entered. You can then select one or multiple entries from the list using the white checkboxes to the left of each entry. The screenshot below shows the Organization filter following a search for keyword "communication."

With Advanced Filtering, you won't see a list of values to choose from, but you can use rules to determine a range of values the report will return. For example, you can tell the report to show all Transactions with a transaction amount greater than or equal to $10,000. The screenshot below is from the Operating Budget Report, and shows the Organization filter following a search for all Orgs starting with 35 or starting with 295.

After determining what rules you want to use, click the "Apply filter" button on the filter card and the report will recalculate.

Slicer vs. Filter — What's the difference?

Many Power BI reports use features called "slicers," which are objects embedded in the report body that allow you to interactively "slice and dice" your data. They come in a lot of different flavors, including checkbox lists, dropdown lists, buttons, and sliders. While they function a lot like filters do, they're not really the same thing. 

For one thing, as mentioned above, slicers actually sit on the report page itself, inside the body of the report, whereas filters can only be interacted with via the Filters pane on the right side of your screen.

By far the biggest difference is that, when you apply a filter, you don't get to pick and choose what parts of the report will be affected: if you apply a report-level filter, it will invariably filter all the data in the report, and a page-level filter will do the same for the page it's on, and so on. However, slicers are a bit more flexible in that they can be programmed to only affect certain objects on the page, and you can even change the manner in which a slicer affects an object.

Below are some examples of slicers seen in the bodies of some of Davidson's Power BI reports:

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