I spent a great day at LocalGovCamp in Birmingham last Saturday, an unconference for anyone interested in how social media and digital technology relates to local authorities and improving public services.
Photo by Glenn Wood
Toby Blume, of Urban Forum and Paul Evans ran a session on data visualisation and visualising policy (more on that in this previous post).
Partway through the discussion, one particular issue really grabbed my attention. There was some frustration from some local authority officers about how difficult it is to actually make a visualisation or to communicate issues visually. It went something like this:
“This stuff is really hard. I want a tool that will let me put my data in and will give me a nice visualisation back.”
After a few responses – useful suggestions such as starting with Google Spreadsheets or Fusion Tables – the frustration with the steep learning curve came out, and Michael Grimes refocused the room with this nugget of sense:
“The process of creation [for a data visualisation] is important. It’s about how we communicate accurately with the information we have.”
And Michael got me thinking… do local authority officers expect making a data visualisation to be a straightforward process? Should it be easier? Are the available tools not serving those new to visualisation?
Or, and this is my thinking, there’s a false expectation that visualising data is easy. The JFDI attitude prevalent in other areas of digital tools for local government may have created false expectations on ease of access to visualisation.