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Will Data Visualization Save The World?

Data visualizations for NGOs and charities are increasing in importance

20Feb

Data is power in today’s world, with the company, country, or person who knows the most generally having the most impact. It is not only useful when it comes to making the best decisions at a board room level, though, this data also needs to be communicated to everybody across the organization. A company can’t be truly data-driven until it can clearly communicate its data to employees, and effectively share its data with wider public.

This is where data visualization comes in, with the ability to easily express complex issues in a simple way being a key driving factor in its spread throughout the business world.

However, it is not only in the corporate world where data visualization is having a huge impact, it is arguably in the charity and environmental sector where it could have the biggest impact.

There has been a considerable number of controversial statements made about climate change in the past year, especially from some of the key members of the new administration making scary claims about the impact of climate change. For instance the new head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, wrote in the National Review that the damage being done to the environment and the increase in global warming resulting in litigation and criminal prosecution were ‘Pretended offenses, indeed.’

In these circumstances it is essential for charities and NGOs to make sure they are fighting to stop climate change, much of which is going to be through informing people of the impact it is having. Simply releasing statements like ’30% of sea ice being lost’ or ‘freak nature events are increasing’ is not necessarily effective. Having the ability to show the real impacts through visualization is essential, with Gizmodo showing an incredibly effective set of visualizations for this is September 2016 (http://gizmodo.com/dramatic-visualizations-show-just-how-quickly-the-arcti-1786843178).

Most people cannot visualize numbers in their heads, especially when it comes to subjects they know little about. It is going to be down to visualizations like this that will show people the real impact that these changes are going to have on the world, it may be the single most powerful weapon that charities have today.

It is not only an environmental issue though, with charities across the world needing to create a focus on their specific interests, which is often through describing the plights of people or causes. This often comes down to numbers, whether this is through the number of people impacted by war, the severity of a drought, or damage by a natural disaster. Visualizing these is by far the most effective way to spread this data to the largest number of people because few are going to understand what this data may mean in human terms and it is unlikely to have much of an impact on an emotional level anyway.

Charities and NGOs are not simply about getting their cause understood either, many take an active part in the work they support, where data visualization has a key part to play.

Disaster relief is a great example of this, and we have seen how social media feeds have been used to help identify areas that need the most help and have also allowed rescuers to identify where they need to be at any one time. It can help headquarters to identify the areas with the highest concentration of people accurately to make sure that rescue operations are targeted towards the areas where they are most likely to be effective, rather than simply sending helpers to a wider area. It also means when that when on the ground, helpers are not forced to call back to headquarters to have complex information clarified, as it is in a considerably easier to use form.

It may be a bit much to say that data visualization alone will save the world, but ultimately it will have a huge part to play in how charitable organizations and NGOs perform in the years to come. As we become more accustomed to data visualizations in our everyday life, the understanding will increase alongside their power to inform. 

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