Toby Blume – my co-host of the session on data visualisation at Local Gov Camp (last Saturday in Birmingham) – has posted his observations from the session here. In addition, Nick Booth has been busy with two posts on the subject.
A few standout quotes: Firstly, here’s Nick:
“…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.
Other digital tools in the social web made for publishing content – such as free blog platforms, Twitter, Facebook Pages or sharing video on YouTube – are relatively straightforward to get started with and local authorities are using these tools to great effect already.
But ease of access to tools, having the ability to publish or the skills to find your way around a blog platform doesn’t necessarily mean you can communicate effectively. Also, you can’t learn to write well or communicate with other people by spending an afternoon reading blog posts on the subject. These are skills that take time to build up and are achieved through practice, experimentation and, frankly, well… work or experience.
Making an effective data visualisation of a civic issue or communicating policy ideas visually to help other people understand the issues is an involved process…”
And Toby brings something else to the table here that slightly jars with Nick’s line:
“Data visualisation is very different to policy visualisation – using data presents all sorts of particular issues and challenges, relating to how you collect and manage data, design and communication skills, corporate culture and practice and purpose.
Policy visualisation – that is, presenting policy in a more visual and accessible way – is, I think, simpler to do. It’s about communicating potentially complex information in a friendlier and more inclusive way. It is helpful to bring good quality design skills to the process, but it’s not essential (at least my experience suggests this is the case – given the positive feedback I’ve had, despite being a design novice).
As important as the end product (ie the visualisation) is the deliberative process of exploring the issues and ideas, reflecting different perspectives and ultimately increasing understanding of the issue [my emphasis]. This is consistent with the learning from Visualcamp – that bringing together designers, policy makers and practitioners (or ‘users’) and arming them simply with pieces of paper and pens, the process of developing a visualisation led to a rich and open discussion about the policy in question.”
If there’s an argument here (and to be fair, there probably isn’t), I’m with Toby. This is not about corporate communications – it’s about the process as much as the outcome. It’s also about the small-p politics of the thing, as I outlined in this post on my work-blog the other day. This is something that councils should be wanting more of.
Sure – there’s a place for a really professional description of the problem as a conversation starter – my friends at ThinkPublic do this beautifully.
But it’s not a professional-doing-it-properly vs social-media-bootstrapping opposition here.
It’s the thing that we often forget about what the blogosphere has brought to public life. We focus – understandably – on the noisy activist bloggers who’ve done big game-changing things (Guido / Taxpayers Alliance = anti-politics, Liberal Conspiracy = new convened voice for the left, MyDavidCameron & 38 Degrees = social-media-as-campaign-vehicle, etc). The sociology of the Westminster Village may be different (even worse?) as a result.
But there’s another dimension. The blogosphere – in it’s widest incarnation – is also a low level conversation. It’s another dimension to the conversational politics question that I posted on earlier today. A talking cure in which issues are discussed and (I beleive, but can’t prove) participants rationalise and learn. Bloggers make new contacts and synthesise new ideas more quickly. And (my personal motto), ‘I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.’ (OK, disclosure: that’s Flannery O’Connor’s line).
Getting school pupils to think about what information is available and how it helps them to describe what government is brings us into the realms of co-creation and co-design. We learn thing we didn’t know – and we’re asking people to describe the problem rather than getting unelected people to tell us what the solutions should be.
It’s playful. It’s educational (for all concerned). It’s also less problematic from a democratic point of view.
I’ll conclude here by re-posting the conclusions people drew from the session (they were buried at the back of the slideshow last time) – I think they’re a good roundup.
- Review required skills for LocalGov employment
- Co-ordinate visualisation skills within local government better
- Lower expectations on corporate style – go for authenticity rather than branding
- Encourage people other than formal employees to present information – it’s more authentic – enable and curate rather than ‘just create’
- Make a clearer link between participation and decision making
- Make organisations more permissive in comms terns – making everything go through the corporate filter doesn’t work
- When we inform – say WHY we’re informing
- Curate walk-throughs of how people do good data visualisation – dotgovlabls/skunkworks
- Visual media surgeries!
Originally published at Local Democracy. Please leave any comments there.