Visualization can be a powerful tool, not only for education but also for exploring information and generating new ideas. Hans Rosling from the impressive Gapminder project gives an excellent presentation exposing how powerful visualization tools combined with public domain data could be important drivers of social change.
One of the barriers to this approach, apparently, is that much of the useful data, data which is produced by our tax dollars, is locked up in particular formats or due to special agreements. Or simply not made available. I suppose those involved think that the general population doesn’t want access to the raw data anyway, what on earth could we derive from it? Leave it to Statscan or other government organizations to ask the right questions for the good of society. Their methodology is best anyhow.
If this attitude frustrates you, I highly recommend you watch the following 20 minute presentation. Whether you’re trying to improve your company’s operation, run a non-profit organization, or set government policy, I think many ordinary folk could benefit from such a visualization tool allowing them to easily pose questions of data sets and form new hypotheses:
Such tools and approaches may lead towards a more participatory form of governance, equipping citizens with the ability to provide feedback, based on evidence, into policy making processes.
While I’m on a roll, imagine we furthermore instrument such policies to collect data on their performance post-hoc, creating a feedback cycle allowing us to monitor, measure and adjust. When a new government is voted in then they would be able to make informed decisions about which programs function well and which to cancel, instead of cutting based on partisan politics.
Now that would be transparency of governance.