Over the past five years, governments have started to make some of their data available as open-data, notably USA’s data.gov and Canada’s data.gc.ca. At the same time, NGOs such as the World Bank, OECD and UNESCO have created data portals and made their data available for everyone to explore.
This growing amount of data is just waiting to be used, and more specifically, to be visualized. Sites such as Visualizing.org and Information is Beautiful Awards often publish challenges inviting people to use the data in creative ways, allowing to drive interest, and insights, from the datasets. And international nonprofits are generating and visualizing masses of data in the hope that it will give policymakers, funders and the general public an idea of the scope of the issues they are trying to solve.
Data visualization plays a key role in the communication and sharing of the data: datasets are often obscure, lost in a complicated hierarchy of categories, and require a technical manual for interpretation. Data visualization plays a key role in telling the stories behind the data. For most audiences, data sets are hard to use and interpret — the average user would need a technical guide just to navigate through the complicated hierarchies of categories let alone interpret the information. But data visualizations trigger interest and insight because they are immediate, clear, and tangible.
At FFunction, we visualize a lot of data. Most of the time our clients send us Excel spreadsheets or CSV files, so we were happily surprised when we started to work with UNESCO Institute for Statistics on two fascinating education-related projects — Out-of-School Children and Left Behind — and realized that they had been working on a data API. As we began to work through the data ourselves, we uncovered several reasons why using an API helps immeasurably with data visualization.
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