At Re:Publica in a session on data visualization to make sense of globalization, the release of a very cool dataviz project was announced for next week: The OECD Regional Well-Being Index. ‘Truth and beauty operator’ Moritz Stefaner, who contributed to the visual aspects, made this announcement during the session and gave a sneak preview.

It is a follow-up of the OECD Better Life Index (also very cool), and a new incarnation of the statistical regional explorer.

What it allows you to do is explore regional data, on the basis of what you deem relevant, and then find out which regions in other OECD countries have similar profiles. This is important, as until now OECD data was mostly presented on national level, but the more profound differences are usually found within a country, or when comparing regions, not countries.

If you do such a comparison for Berlin, as shown in the pictures, you find out why Peter Rukavina likes Berlin so much: it is statistically similar to his home Prince Edward Island, just more urban and with a wider variety of things on offer.

Berlin, with Prince Edward Island mentioned as similar region

PEI, statistically similar to Berlin

The existing OECD Regional Well-Being Index is already a great and beautiful project. It moves away from ranking countries, as that has no real meaning (in the sense of scope of interventions or policy consequences). You can create your own set of important indicators, and your choice as well as those of other visitors is used again as data to improve the visualization of the project itself. The top layer of the index is playful, and doesn’t throw all of the statistics in your face at the beginning. If you want you can dig much deeper and get much richer detailed numbers.

For more OECD data visualizatons see their Data Lab. Also check out the dataviz portfolio of Moritz Stefaner, who created the key elements of the OECD visualizations.

We see and think differently with our hands than with our eyes and heads. Whenever we make something tangible it has the potential to change our perspective.

This became tangible again for me last December when I participated in Wiro Kuiper’s ‘Lego serious play’ workshop. Handling lego stones, seeing something take shape in your hands, involves a different part of your brain while thinking on questions like “what is it that I do for clients?” as depicted in the pic below. (Add your guess as to what it means in the comments 😉 )

What I do for clients, @ lego serious play workshop

Since that workshop I have been musing about how ‘making something tangible’ could play a role in more of my work situations. Without much progress.

Tangible statistics,

Recently we acquired a 3D printer at home. Previously I have encountered 3d printing ear hangers from visualized statistics based on open data (shown above), and I discussed that idea with Elmine. She, for a little side project of her, printed the two items below.

Elmine’s 3d printed statistics

They are both printed statistics: the small one is the number of Germans in the Dutch border region, and the bigger one the number of Dutch in the German border region (data source). Each by itself does not mean much to me. But in combination they are very interesting again: they make differences in amount tangible. You can feel the difference when you take the objects in your hands. Tangible infographics as it were.

Where could I apply that? And also, how to overcome my reluctance to make things tangible like this early / quickly as part of my own exploration (I tend to keep everything in text or in my head)?

Last week at the PolitCamp Graz I had the pleasure to meet Keith Andrews, who’s a professor there, and attend his session on how to unlock and use general data that has been gathered and paid for with tax payers money. Our public data.
Hans Rosling has some pretty compelling examples of what you can do IF (and it really is a big if) you can get access to the data that is all there (and it really is all there), and if you succeed in presenting it in a way that is more enticing than tables with numbers.

Social software thrives on heaps of data and information, and here’s this mountain of data that hardly anybody has access too. This is the public parallel of what I see in corporations as well when it concerns business intelligence (BI). With huge amounts of money systems are put in place that collect insane amounts of data, and then only a handful of specialists create half a dozen management reports from that, leaving most of the data untouched. I remember an information manager who was surprised at the clever questions professionals in his corporation were able to ask the dataset, when he gave them access to it, which his own BI-people or higher management would never think of to ask. Having access to the data we collectively have made possible to gather therefore to me is not just a question of pursuing the ideal of ‘openness’ and transparancy in general, but a way to create so much more opportunties for people to act upon, based on the additional information available.

Making that access possible brings the need for a better presentation layer. Visualization aspects, and constructing queries etc. But it starts with convincing those who now manage the public databases to open up their data in RDF format so it can be used for web based mash-ups. This means a shift in attitude for these institutes/people, as usually their respons now to requests for data is one of suspicion: “What will you be using it for?”. Examples of this were abundant in the discussion at the PolitCamp session. I think this is one more type of gatekeeper we can do without.
In this light I am also looking forward to Reboot, where a session on Free Public Data is proposed.