May 31, 2020

Thinking deeper about the importance of Data Viz @datavizlive online

By Paul Laughlin

This post continues my debrief from the first-ever @datavizlive online event. As I shared previously, I had the joy of chairing this event and so introducing a great line-up of Data Viz speakers.

As before, let me apologise to those speakers whom I do not include in this debrief. It is no comment on the quality of your presentation (all talks were of a high quality). Rather, I only have space in two blog posts for those sessions where I learnt most (of those I attended).

So, in my first post, I shared useful advice on establishing best practice & design principles from JLL & Emma Cosh. The final session shared in that post was  Xaquín‘s call for improved public data & visualisation by public bodies. This post continues that focus on values.

The afternoon of this engaging online data visualisation event explored even more of the human & societal implications of Data Viz. I was very struck by talks on communities, ethics & lobbying policymakers. A reminder that the profession of data visualisation matters for society.

So, without further ado, here are the next four presentations that I recall most from @datavizline online

Building Data Viz communities

As the Knowledge Director for the growingly influential Data Viz Society, Neil Richards was ideally placed to talk on building communities. He is also a Data Visualisation Evangelist within Groupon, so also shared from his experience of creating internal communities of practice.

After some interesting education on culture, great apes & the passing on of knowledge through collective behaviours, Neil focussed on internal communities. If you’re seeking to do this, his talk is well worth hearing.

At a very high-level he suggested tips for each of these stages:

  1. Develop Talent
  2. Support Sharing
  3. Foster Trust
  4. Change Mindsets
  5. Seek Commitment

That final emphasis on achieving change through influencing senior stakeholders also included the power of internal events.

Insight for me: A great way to achieve both consistent best practice within and motivation across your data visualisers is to focus on building a community of practice to share and influence others.

You can see more of Neil’s approach to community building by checking out the Data Visualization Society website and the resources shared there:

Data Visualization Society

Data Visualization Society aims to collect and establish best practices, fostering a community that supports members as they grow and develop data visualization skills. As data grows more central to our personal and professional lives, the practice of data visualization becomes ever more important.

From internal communities to achieving change for Social Good

Neil is also the Communities lead for a great charity, Viz for Social Good. That enables what I have previously advocated for Data Scientists, but focussed on data visualisation projects to achieve social goods.

It was really helpful that Neil’s talk was followed by David Pires. As well as being Head of Data Viz for Expedia Group, David is the Partnership lead for Viz for Social Good & so shared lots of inspiring examples of the kind.

You can find out more about their work & get involved here:

Viz for Social Good

Viz For Social Good is a platform for data visualization enthusiasts who aspire to empower mission-driven organizations and increase awareness of social issues through beautiful and informative visualizations. We provide viz projects and datasets from nonprofits for data visualization lovers to expl

Data Ethics meets Data Visualisation

Building further on that focus on social good, Bridget Cogley (a Data Ethicist for Teknion Data Solutions) share next on morals, laws & ethics. She usefully defined ethics as (somewhat) distinct from morals & laws, showing how they were needed as Data Visualisation becomes a profession.

Through an engaging presentation, she helpfully shared a number of questions that data visualisers should ask themselves as they work:

  • Do I have the right to make this decision?
  • How am I (with my own background/biases) reflected in this analysis?
  • What am I missing (data not collected, other context, other causes)?
  • Whose data is this? What is their perspective?
  • Who else is impacted by this decision? Where is their voice?
  • What can’t be quantified?

A sobering session as one thinks through the number of key social decisions (i.e. lockdown) that are being guided by data visualisations. Ethical practice and training to ensure that should be growing priorities for this community.

Insight for me: Think beyond the stakeholders you need or are seeking to influence. Who else is impacted by this decision? How can their voice be included in the data and/or visualisation?

You can read more of Bridget’s thinking on this in the Ethics section of…


Clean, Mean & Lean Tableau Dashboards

Elevate the debate to influence change

The final talk of the data (at least for me) was presented by a man whose work I’ve admired for years. Jon Schwabish is both the founder of the Data Viz goody bag that is PolicyViz and a senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

I’ve recommended Jon’s many resources before in my shortlists of Data Viz, blogs, tweeters & books. It is also well worth listening to his excellent Data Viz themed podcast (PolicyViz podcast). But his talk at this event shared the highlights from his latest book “Elevate the Debate“.

I knew this was focussed on sharing best practice for researchers and quants whose jobs are to influence public policy. I was delighted to hear how much of Jon’s advice was also directly relevant to all analysts.

He used the familiar analogy of a pyramid for the hierarchy of detail to communicate (and an inverted pyramid for suitable media to use). Jon then summarised his advice in 8 stages (here’s a selection of his tips):

  1. Meet people where they are at, be a translator to their language.
  2. Develop an outreach strategy for your audience.
  3. Use ‘active titles‘ in your slides (so headlines tell a story).
  4. Put your most important fact slide up (again) as your closing slide.
  5. Blog your findings, but design content for skim reading.
  6. Work with the media & always answer their last question.
  7. Be active on Social Media, but build your own content first.
  8. Pull all levels together into an integrated strategy/template.

Some great advice from Jon and so much of this resonated with my own training in “People/Softer Skills for Analysts” & “Data Visualisation” training courses. A much-needed emphasis for all types of analysts.

Insight for me: Think through the different levels of detail you could communicate and most appropriate media/audience for each level.

You can enjoy more of Jon’s content & resources to help you here:

Home – Policy Viz

Join me in the pursuit of effective data communication. Explore tutorials, learn best practices, and review graph remakes; listen to top minds in the fields of data, data visualization, and presentation skills on The PolicyViz Podcast; and interact with the community in HelpMeViz.

How can you improve your professional impact?

I hope those reflections were of interest and challenged you. For me, this event was an important reminder as to the importance of the work Data Visualisation analysts do. In fact, how all of us who work with data should remember communities, ethics & our audience in all we do.

If you have any further resources to share on these themes, please share them in the comments below or when this post is shared on social media.