Why data visualization matters

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Because of its interesting implications for innovation, the ILF dedicated one of its ‘Innovators Anonymous’ meeting, hosted March 2013 by Method, to this topic. In their latest newsletter Nesta shared an interesting article on the same topic; it highlights two main obstacles when it come’s to unleash the visualization potential of big data; the skills needed and the accessibility of data.

Data visualization is a growing field of expertise, involving the creation of interactive layouts that help people understand and explore complex and multi-faceted data. Forward thinking organisations are creating multi-skilled teams to bring data visualisation in house and develop their own tools for telling stories with data. For these teams to work well, they need a diverse mix of skills: designers, developers and journalists.

The Guardian and the New York Times both have large ’Data Viz Teams’ working closely with journalists and researchers to develop compelling visualisations, such as the classic government spending bubble map from the Guardian:

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The challenge of visualising data is not just getting the right people with the right skills and giving them permission to work: data visualisation teams need access to more than their own organisation’s data to generate value. Yet accessing the data of others is a key challenge. As Nigel Shadbolt, Chairman of the Open Data Institute of the UK points out, public datasets such as the Postal Adress File (PAF) is currently expensive to use, inflexibly provided and licensed in a complex way.

Organisations such as the Open Data Institute are lobbying hard for our government to put in place a UK-wide data strategy to help realise the immense value that opening up and standardising public datasets could bring. What won’t happen so fast, are the tech giants giving up their data for public good. For them it really is the new oil – and until we stop feeding the wells, its value is only set to grow. Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine, speaking at Nesta’s FutureFest, highlighted our predicament when he said:

“It’s more difficult to change your digital identity in 2015 than it is to change your country of residence”.

Original article published on Nesta’s blog on the 20th of March 2015 by Olly Arber. Read full article here

Accessing data is not the only problem; there are also challenges around privacy, and abuse of data. Edward Snowden, the American computer professional who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency to the mainstream media, explained in an interview at the FutureFest in March, his point of view on an open and honest public discussion about mass surveillance. You can watch the full length interview here:

Key insights

  • Mass surveillance vs. public rights & safety: Mass surveillance is deployed under the pretence of stopping crime and terrorism by knowing everyone.
  • Academic freedom: It is important that the public is allowed to challenge the prevailing conception of different religions, and fully explore ideas without any constraints.
  • Decentralise the permission of the use of our communication: People should be able to decide the level of publicity that is attached to their communication.
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