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There I awkwardly stood around for a bit, smoked a cigarette and the lecture began about an hour after I had expected it to. The event was advertised by the Linux Uganda Group which I am really only a poser member of, having left the Linux computer (that someone else set up for me) back in the states. Although I know the operating system, I’m no developer or programmer, so it’s wasted on me. What caught my eye about this event was the data visualization speaker. I, like most people I think, like to look at really cool things and data visualization is all about looking at really cool things, making things that look really cool, and telling other people about it.
There are some new and interesting developments in the field of data visualization and international NGOs. UNICEF is currently working on a “ureport” system that encourages sms users to text in responses to questions asked on the radio. UReport doesn’t seem like it’s up and running yet as a standalone website, but people are reporting via SMS. But, Devtrac is another UNICEF project that is a new data visualization tool and has a really cool map on it's homepage.
So why data visualization? Personally I think people are just more attracted to pretty colors and pictures than black and white words on a page. Beyond that, presenting data in an interactive format, such as the map on Devtrac's page, shows more than just one story. The interactivity of web-based data visualizations is obvious, but in more resource constrained settings where low bandwidth and lack of internet access come to play, data visualization is key to do needs assessment and other intervention evaluations. Mapping community resources is one of the first steps in assessing a potential project and one of the most interactive, and in my opinion interesting ways to do that is actually asking people/beneficiaries to draw a map. Or better yet, come with some tangible resource models (like monopoly houses) and place those resource icons throughout the map.
While Ms. Hannie van der Bergh, the speaker at Mountbatten, was engaging, her research interesting, and the crowd probably full of great conversations, I ducked out a bit early. It was getting dark and I had a long boda ride ahead of me. By the time I got home, my knuckles were white from holding on to the back of the motorcycle, my knees were tense, and my head was spinning. Was it the boda or the talk?