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3 Ways the Data Visualization Society Helps You with DataViz Problems

By Guest Writer on February 27, 2020

humanitarian metadata problem

Just about everyone I know in the ICT4D community has interacted with, presented, or created a chart, dashboard, infographic, or other data visualization. We’ve also all seen charts that mislead, confuse, or otherwise fall short of making information more accessible.

The goal of the Data Visualization Society is to collect and establish best practices in data viz, fostering a community that supports members as they grow and develop data visualization skills. With more than 11.5K members from 123 countries on our first birthday, the society has grown faster than any of the founders imagined.

There are three reasons you should join the Data Visualization Society to improve your data visualizations in international development.

1. Learn how to use self-service data visualization tools

We’ve seen the proliferation of dashboards and enthusiasm for data viz as a tool to promote data driven decision making. Just about anyone can make a chart thanks to Flourish, RAWgraphs, Datawrapper, Tableau, PowerBI, etc. Yet, without data viz fundamentals, it’s easy to use these tools to create confusing and misleading graphs.

A recent study on user-designed dashboards in DHIS2  found that the technical flexibility of DHIS2 leads to customization reports, but the quality of the dashboards face numerous challenges.  The researchers used a framework from Stephen Few to evaluate the frequency of five different kinds of dashboard problems on 80 user-designed sample dashboards. The five problem types included: context, dashboard layout, visualization technique, logical, and data quality.

Of the 80 dashboards evaluated, 83% had at least one visualization technique problem. Many of the examples shared in the paper could be easily addressed, like transforming the pie chart made of slices representing points in time into a line graph.

With so many tools at our fingerprints, how can we use them to develop meaningful, impactful charts and interactive dashboards?  DVS offers a professional home to learn fundamentals of data visualization. Join the #share-showcase channel to see beautiful examples of visualizations built in a wide range of different platforms and on different topics

2. Learn about a variety of tools and technologies

 In ICT4D, we often have to be scrappy and flexible. That means learning how to work with open source tools, hack charts in Excel, and make decisions about what tool to use based on resource availability instead of functionality.

There are many great tool specific communities out there that just focus on TUGs, PUGs, RLadies, Stack Overflow, and more. DVS connects people looking to share best practices across the many disciplines doing data viz: journalists, evaluators, developers, graphic designers, and more. That means not being limited to one tool or platform, so we can look for what fits a given project or audience.

After joining DVS, you’ll receive an invite to the Society’s’ Slack, a community “workspace” with channels on different topics and for connecting different groups of people within the community.  You can ask questions about any data viz tool on the #topic-tools channel and explore emerging and established platforms with honest feedback on how other members have used them in their work.

3. Receive dedicated support on your data viz problem

Data visualization isn’t consistently taught as a foundation skill for public health development professionals.

In university, there may be a few modules within a statistics or evaluation class, but seldom are there dedicated, semester long classes on visualization; those are reserved for computer science and analytics programs (though this seems to be slowing changing!).  Continuing education in data viz is usually short workshops, not long-term mentoring relationships.

What happens when people are asked to “figure it out” on the job? Or attend a two-day workshop and come away as a resident data viz expert?

Within DVS, our leadership and our members step up to answer questions and be that coach for people at all stages of learning data visualization. We even have a dedicated feedback space within Slack to share examples of data viz work in progress and get feedback.

DVS also enables informal connections on questions on a wide range of topics. Go to #share-critique, for posting work-in-progress visualizations and seeking feedback from the community. We also host quarterly challenges where you can do hands-on practice with provided data sets to develop your data viz skills and have plans for a formal mentorship program to launch in 2020.

Join DVS today to get its benefits – members from Africa, Asia, and other underrepresented areas are especially encouraged to join us now!

By Amanda Makulec, Operations Director at Data Visualization Society

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