The GDS Academy provides people with the digital and technology skills needed to transform public services. It is open to civil servants, local government employees, devolved administrations and other public servants.
Previously known as the Digital Academy, it began life in a room at Fulham Jobcentre. Initially it was set up to grow in-house digital capability and upskill civil servants at the Department for Work and Pensions.
From these humble beginnings, the GDS Academy has grown to be a centralised public sector training resource. Today, there are 4 academies in London, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle and our model has influenced other international governments to set up their own versions.
We will continue to develop by opening academies in more locations and offering a wider range of courses and programmes. This will help ensure we continue to deliver on one of the Government Transformation Strategy’s ambitions of having one of the most digitally skilled group of public servants in the world by 2020.
We are growing nationally, internationally and in the training we provide.
Alongside our 4 permanent locations there have been pop-up academies in Birmingham and Newport. In Leeds, we have recently moved into new quarters in a tech incubator hub. We’re investigating new locations to set up in and we’ll continue to run pop-up academies in the meantime.
Our international reach is growing. Two GDS Academy facilitators visited Canada to share how we had upskilled our public servants. After this visit, the Canadian Government set up their own version of the GDS Academy. We also offered our support to the Scottish Government when they were establishing the Scottish Digital Academy.
We’re increasing the number of local authority students by linking GDS Academy training opportunities to the Local Digital Declaration principles. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Local Digital Fund provides committed funding for more than 1,000 local authority staff to attend training.
And, we’re delivering courses to health organisations, including Public Health England, to help adoption of digital and agile ways of working.
Changing ways of working
Since 2012, the number of Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) job roles across government has increased and there are now about 17,000 DDaT specialists in government.
The GDS Academy is aligned with the framework. This means public servants can get the most appropriate learning and development. The training also includes awareness courses for non-specialists and those in digital roles, as well as courses for senior leaders. Our popular 10-day digital and agile foundation course is accredited by the Learning and Performance Institute.
This means that one of the chief concerns about connecting with groups has been taken away. That’s the game-changing bit.
Old concerns about Facebook groups
For the last few years groups have been a rather pure place.
In order to join them you had to use your personal profile. Facebook’s terms and conditions insist you can only have one account. They’ve also been hot at clamping down on second or ‘fake’ accounts.
But the concerns for organisations boiled down to:
I don’t want to use my Facebook profile in a group so people know I work for X.
This is really understandable. One public sector social media manager told me that he got sworn at online between 9am and 5pm. He didn’t want to see it in his own timeline at 9pm once the kids were in bed.
The old workaround for Facebook groups
My best advice used to be to use your Facebook profile to private message the admin who are easily identifiable, introduce yourself and see if they could share some relevant content for you.
The more recent state of play
A few months ago Facebook announced a move that now looks like it paved the way to the current development. Pages could join groups if group admins changed their permissions.
Mind you, I still thought that knocking on the door of the admin was a best first step.
What this new change means
The new announcement that allowing pages to join groups by default will be rolled out is really significant.
It means that pages will be much freer to join groups. For open groups, this means you should be able to join straight away just like a person. For closed groups, you’ll have to apply and wait for the admin to let you in just like you would do if you were a person.
Of course, it’ll take time to roll out and the admin can change the setting to stop pages.
It means that the landscape of groups could change markedly as marketers and comms people explore them.
It doesn’t mean that you can charge in and nakedly flog stuff.
Being a human matters online.
It means that the digital footprint that you need to be aware of and can engage with has just ballooned.
But it does remove a big barrier that has stopped a few organisations properly connecting.
It means that pages that have no budget can still connect with people on Facebook if they go out and explore.
Some top tips
I’d still start off looking to connect with a group by private messaging the admin. You’ll get a good sense of how welcome you’ll be.
And I’d speak human.
And I’d identify yourself with your name.
People are more reluctant to shout at a human being compared to a logo.
We’d spent 6 months working alongside staff and citizens through research, co-design and testing to design better and cheaper services. Getting to know the people and place, we learned as much as we could about the council, their challenges and their goals. When it was time for us to step back and let the NEL team get on with the good work, we first helped them outline a plan for the team to action throughout the next year, breaking down the transformational change work into defined themes and manageable tasks.
Agile baking: from recipes to roadmaps
Making long-lasting, transformational change is complicated. It requires flexibility, room to experiment and the freedom to make mistakes. There are simply too many shifting components to pinpoint a single way of planning work. Whilst it’s important to create a plan that evokes action, it must also be versatile enough to accommodate this uncertainty.
When we’re trying to design for the future, finite project plans can be limiting, which is why we use an agile approach and mapping. It can take getting used to the ambiguity that comes with these methods. Who wouldn’t prefer a simple set of instructions with detailed timings? Many of the staff in NEL are used to setting clear and concrete project plans before even procuring work. It was only natural there would be skepticism towards flexibility.
One way of looking at this is to imagine baking a cake. Only, the oven settings and ingredients are constantly changing. That’s what transformational change is like. Your favourite, more detailed recipe won’t serve you well here. You’ll need a new recipe that keeps you on track and allows you to adjust. Time, temperature and amount of ingredients may change, or in the context of a council, staff resourcing, service user needs or changes in policy. This is where baking down, I mean breaking down, a roadmap into clear themes is helpful.
For the NEL Adult Services review, we focused less on how to fix specific services and more on the combined effect of small changes across the whole adult services recipe book to build layers of systemic change. We took a similar approach to the roadmap, breaking it into 4 key ingredients or themes from our lenses for service transformation — Governance, Data, Content and User Experience.
Cutting our transformational cake down into themes, or slices, helped focus our actions on bite-sized, manageable tasks. It’s exciting to think about eating an entire cake in one sitting, but it’s probably not very achievable. Especially a rich cake with many layers. Starting small while thinking big, we were sure that our goals wouldn’t be overwhelming because we weren’t trying to change everything at once.
Just like any good cake, these roadmap ingredients need to work together to create something everyone wants a piece of. And what’s a recipe without a secret ingredient thrown in the mix? Using insight from our research, we tailored the recipe to the priorities for change (or taste) in NEL. For instance, we learnt that a lack of a shared vision for Adult Services has often meant that staff don’t know if they’re doing the right thing. This inspired the Governance branch of the map, opportunities and subsequent actions for the team to take forward.
A cupcake for everyone
When creating a recipe, or designing a roadmap, it’s important that what’s created is accessible to everyone and feels personal to the organisation. This often means remaining flexible so that change is tangible, malleable and feasible. Some of the ways we achieved this with NEL were:
using language that is consistent and recognised
focusing on local, not national needs; the things they have agency over while avoiding national level policy restrictions
shared responsibility with tasks including many parts of the organisation for a collective effort toward change
From service design to transformational baking
One recipe does not fit all and our job as service designers (ahem, transformational bakers) is to handover the recipe and enough ingredients to allow staff to rise to the challenge of tailored baking. North East Lincs have asked us to return in 6 and 12 months time to see how this cake is cooking. I personally can’t wait to be back in Grimsby Town to sample a taste of how using the roadmap has been and grab an actual Coopland’s yum yum!
We recently spent a day running a strategy workshop forDG Cities. DG Cities are a company wholly owned by Greenwich Council who exist to deliver smart cities projects, research and consultancy. We were lucky enough to have the whole company (12 people) in a room for a whole day. This was a great opportunity for us to develop and test a new strategy product.
The objectives of the workshop were to:
Uncover what the company wanted to achieve, and how to get there
Build a collective understanding and ownership of those things
The company had already invested time and thought into setting a vision: “We aspire to be the go-to urban innovation company for city transformation.” What they didn’t have, however, were agreed strategic objectives or goals to focus their work on meeting that vision. Our job was to help them agree on the outcomes they wanted to work towards, and the deliverables that they could produce to meet them.
We decided to use a version of the ‘Logical Framework’ tool that we’ve been using for dxw digital’s own business plan. It’s a really helpful approach to tackling organisational strategy and developing a roadmap for a business.
The framework starts with a focus on determining the outcomes you want to achieve as a company. You then tie the things you need to create (deliverables), and the things you need to do (activities) to these tangible outcomes. The basic logic is:
If you resource the activities, and carry them all out, you’ll achieve your deliverables
If those deliverables are produced, you’ll achieve the outcomes you want to meet
If those outcomes are achieved, you will have contributed meaningfully to your overall vision.
We used a mixture of discussion and group activities to work through the framework from the top.
What we achieved
We got to a collective agreement on the company’s major areas of focus – and a shopping list of what an outcome might look like for each one. We could have spent a whole day trying to agree on the wording for each of these, so ensured that we moved on before disappearing down any rabbit holes.
We then agreed on a set of priority deliverables for each of these areas, including some really important questions the company needs to answer like – what’s our value proposition? who do we want our customers to be?.
What we learned
The conversation is as important as the end product. In this type of exercise, you’re never going to get a completed and polished strategic plan in one day – and lots of new questions will come up. But, we did get people thinking in a strategic way, working through problems logically, talking and debating with their colleagues, and agreeing the big things the company needs to focus on. The workshop generated new work to take forward, but the confidence that it was the right work to do.
Language is hard and people understand things in different ways. Outcomes, objectives, goals, deliverables, activities, etc, – are not always easily distinguishable terms and often mean different things to different people. Clarity is key here. Delivering workshops where the concepts can be nebulous needs really strong facilitation skills.
Working in partnership works really well. When there’s complexity or lots of questions in the room, it’s really helpful to have people there who understand the business and have a clear and solid understanding of the workshop methods.
We’ll develop this approach to form part of our dxw strategy ‘toolkit’ – which we’ll use and adapt for clients with similar challenges.
I’m part of a scrum team to redevelop and re-host a Carer’s Allowance web-based service. I’ve been in my current role since September last year.
No more silos
When I applied for the job I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I would be working on various types of testing, and implementing them on various projects. This included automation, performance, accessibility and security testing.
As a tester I had been used to working in silos for a specific tool or technology, so the variety of the work was very appealing.
I’ve also been able to learn tools such as Axe for accessibility testing and JMeter for Performance testing – implementing them on at least 3 different projects so far. And, I’ve been given the opportunity to learn and develop. For example, I’ve been on training courses for Scrum Master, Docker and Rest API to name a few.
Using my experience
Since joining I’m pleased that I’ve been able to use my knowledge and experience to not only write code, but contribute to the whole spectrum of project delivery activities. For example defining business requirements, participating in and leading scrum sprint ceremonies, and automating testing.
I’ve also performed resilience testing for AWS based applications and ensured the smooth transition of applications from one cloud hosting server to another.
Working on interesting projects
Working for DWP means that my work has an impact on the most vulnerable people in society at the time of their greatest need. And so far I’ve worked on 2 customer facing projects.
Therefore, it’s important that the applications I am working on meet the needs of our users and the demands at the busiest times. Consequently, non-functional testing becomes paramount to the success of the project.
In the coming year, I hope to progress my career as a tester to a more senior role and to develop myself into more technical aspects of testing.
Our engineering community is expanding and we’re currently recruiting test specialists. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our current vacancies. We’re adding new roles all the time.
Perhaps most worrying is the fact that almost half of respondents (49%) reported feeling under more pressure now compared to 12 months ago, despite an increase in awareness around mental health and wellbeing issues in the workplace.
The good news is that many organisations have developed wellbeing strategies in recent years, with interventions from employee assistance programmes to Mental Health First Aiders trained and available.
Each of these measures is a step in the right direction, however they are focused on helping people when they are already in crisis. This seems a little short-sighted.
Perhaps the long-term solution, which in time, saves money through reduced absenteeism and increased productivity, is to invest in preventative measures, providing people with the tools and techniques they need to look after themselves.
Better to prevent than to cure…
This is where an organization called Fresh Air Fridays comes in and can help your organisation.
Fresh Air Fridays works with organisations, businesses and communities, taking people outside so they feel good on the inside. It sounds a bit cheesy but it’s true!
Through innovative 12-session programmes, facilitators work with groups, teaching the skills necessary for people to take care of their own mental and emotional wellbeing.
Each session takes place outside, whatever the weather, and covers one of 12 themes exploring different areas of life and enabling people to make changes if they choose to do so.
The feedback and results so far have been really positive:
75% of participants reported an increase in how relaxed they felt
70% of participants reported improvement in their clarity of thinking
62% of participants reported an increased ability to deal with their problems well
More than 99% of attendees saw an increase in their wellbeing scores
All participants who completed the programme said they would recommend it.
In addition to the quantitative data gathered to date there are many positive testimonials from people who have attended a programme. Here are just three:
“We decided to pilot fresh air coaching, The results were amazing! These are some of the most impressive results I have seen from a course in my career and I am confident that any business would benefit from fresh air coaching.”
“Fresh Air Fridays is a great experience. Learning to manage the stress of work and home life, looking at things from a different angle, understanding the importance of stopping and breathing, all whilst getting outdoors, bonding with others and improving your general positivity and outlook on life. Without a doubt I’d recommend it.”
“I’ve learned to not be so hard on myself, I’ve become more accepting of myself and to be as kind to ‘me’ as I am to others. I understand now that I couldn’t do anything to change what was happening but I can change the way I let it impact on my life now.”
The Fresh Air Fridays team is excited about helping all kinds of people in different types of business and organisation.
Multidisciplinary approaches to design open us to the ability to look at old problems through new perspectives. Bringing different expertise to the table, we can approach problems holistically, viewing every possible path to a great solution, better outcomes and impactful change.
If you’re new to working in multidisciplinary teams, it can be challenging to get used to. Drawing from my own experiences, and the experiences of my colleagues at FutureGov, I’d like to share some tips to help you do this well.
Spend time building relationships
Get to know the value of what each practice brings to the table, to develop shared goals and successes. This is critical to all teams, whether using design or not. In our work with Camden Council, bringing together an ecosystem of employment services, we started by asking everyone to list their strengths on a board. We all had an opportunity to share our expertise and be honest about limitations and the value we hoped to receive from others.
2. Find ways to ‘level out’ the expertise
Dr Lucy Kimbell makes the point that design is great at bringing disciplines together because it acts as a leveller. In 2016, she convened a ‘data studio’ at UAL with the Trussell Trust, bringing different disciplines together around food poverty. She provided physical artefacts — reduced price supermarket purchases — as a way of extracting varying insight. As no one was used to working in this way, no individual could be more expert than the other.
3. Be visual
Using visual communication can help everyone see and understand a problem and potential solutions quickly. Using storyboarding and physical diagrams with teams in Kyrgyzstan, visualising proposed ideas in a model was a great way to share outside of the team and gather feedback, even with the added language barrier. Making sure there’s a shared sense of the problem means that everyone is generating solutions to the right issue.
4. Recognise that others might feel uncomfortable
We use prototyping a lot. But making things out of cardboard can be a very new approach for many. Remembering that agile methods are new to many, allow time for different activities. Find opportunities for people to shine and encourage people when they feel uncomfortable. Remember, it doesn’t have to look perfect, it just has to convey a message.
5.Experience rather than explain
I always find it easier to get people understanding by experiencing. This is another reason prototyping and exploring the user journey is so important. Showing the user’s journey against a curve of emotions as part of our Adult Services Review with North East Lincolnshire Council, we highlighted the different priorities between the service provider and the citizen using the service. It was a pivotal, lightbulb moment, where their journey became an emotional journey, and one everyone could easily relate to.
6. Think carefully about language
Sometimes design language can feel jargony; prototype, service blueprint, ethnography. And different disciplines have different connotations of words. We try to remove jargon whenever possible. Working in multidisciplinary teams, this might mean simplifying words shaping shared working definitions. Even more so, we find that it means asking questions when someone uses a term we don’t know or that we know to mean something different. Never feel afraid to ask questions.
7. Adapt to the context
We use an agile approach. There are ‘sprints’ and ‘show and tells’, but, as my colleague Bea wrote, not everyone wants to come to a ‘show and tell’. If no one is coming, what if you framed its context as an emerging insights session? Sometimes, success relies on how we frame our needs.
8.Be humble and be open
In multidisciplinary teams, everyone brings their own experiences, expertise, views and assumptions to the table. We’re bound to experience moments where someone’s assumption is wrong. That’s okay and it’s part of the process. Be humble and remember that individually, we don’t have all the answers, and we’re a lot closer when working together.
9.Recognise there are different ways of knowing
When different disciplines are working together, they need to go back and forth and iterate over and over. On a health and work project, we used data science and ethnography to reveal what was happening at scale and why. Together, they revealed new things we hadn’t thought about, so we had to go back to look at further datasets.
10.Bring the right people in at the right time
As well as iterating throughout, you might need to bring people together at different points. In this same health and work project, we needed to create a digital three-way conversation between employers, people with health conditions and their work coach. So the ethnographer and data scientist left and the digital team joined. It’s useful to think about tapering in and out, as these disciplines can provide fresh perspectives at all stages.
A lot of these tips require being open and curious about new methods and other disciplines. An open mindset is important for working in interdisciplinary teams. Hopefully, these ten tips will help you get started.
[Summary: Over the next few months I’m working with Create Gloucestershire with a brief to catalyse a range of organisational data projects. Amongst these will be a hackathon of sorts, exploring how artists and analysts might collaborate to look at the cultural education sector locally. The body of this post shares some exploratory groundwork. This is a variation cross-posted from the Create Gloucestershire website.]
Create Gloucestershire have been exploring data for a while now, looking to understand what the ever-increasing volume of online forms, data systems and spreadsheets arts organisations encounter every day might mean for the local cultural sector. For my part, I’ve long worked with data-rich projects, focussing on topics from workers co-operatives and youth participation, to international aid and corruption in government contracting, but the cultural sector is a space I’ve not widely explored.
Often, the process of exploring data can feel like a journey into the technical: where data stands in opposition to all things creative. So, as I join CG for the next three months as a ‘digital catalyst’, working on the use of data within the organisation, I wanted to start by stepping back, and exploring the different places at which data, art and creativity meet with an exploratory blog post..
…and a local note on getting involved…
In a few weeks (late February 2019) we’ll be exploring these issues through a short early-evening workshop in Stroud: with a view to hosting a day-long data-&-art hackathon in late Spring. If you would like to find out more, drop me a line.
Post: Art meets data | Data meets art
For some, data and art are diametrically opposed. Data is about facts. Art about feelings.
Take a look at writings from the data visualisation community , and you will see some suggest that data art is just bad visualisation. Data visualisation, the argument runs, uses graphical presentation to communicate information concisely and clearly. Data art, by contrast, places beauty before functionality. Aesthetics before information.
I prefer to see data, visualisation and art all as components of communication. Communication as the process of sharing information, knowledge and wisdom.
Turning data into information requires a process of organisation and contextualisation. For example, a collection of isolated facts may be made more informative when arranged into a table. That table may be made more easily intelligible when summarised through counts and averages. And it may communicate more clearly when visualisation is included.
But when seeking to communicate a message from the data, there is another contextualisation that matters: contextualising to the recipient: to what they already know, or what you may want to them to come to know. Here, the right tools may not only be those of analysis and visualisation, but also those of art: communicating a message shaped by the data, though not entirely composed of it.
In our upcoming workshop, we’ll be taking a number of datasets about the state of cultural education in Gloucestershire, and asking what they tell us. We’ll be thinking about the different ways to make sense of the data, and the ways to communicate messages from it. My hope is that we will find different ways to express the same data, looking at the same topic from a range of different angles, and bringing in other data sources of our own. In that way, we’ll be able to learn together both about practical skills for working with data, and to explore the subjects the data represents.
In preparing for this workshop I’ve been looking at ways different practitioners have connected data and art, through a range of media, over recent years.
The Open Data Institute: Data as Culture
Since it’s inception, The Open Data Institute in London has run a programme called ‘Data as culture’, commissioning artists to respond to the increasing datification of society.
Some works take a relatively direct approach to representation, selecting particular streams of data from the web and using different media to represent them. Text trends, for example, selected and counterposes different google search trends on a simple graph over time. And the ODIs infamous vending machine provides free crisps in response to news media mentions of recession.
In representative works, the artist has chosen the signal to focus on, and the context in which it is presented. However, the underlying data remains more or less legible, and depending on the contextual media and the literacies of the ‘reader’, certain factual information can also be extracted from the artwork. Whilst it might be more time-consuming to read, the effort demanded by both the act of creation, and the act of reading, may invite a deeper engagement with the phenomena described by the data. London EC2 explores this idea of changing the message through changing the media: by woodblock printing twitter messages, thus slowing down the pace of social media, encouraging the viewer to rethink otherwise ephemeral information.
In other works that are directly driven by datasets, data is used more to convey an impression rather than to convey specific information. In the knitted Punchcard Economy banners, a representation working hours is combined with a pre-defined message resulting in data that can be read as texture, more than it can be read as pattern. In choosing how far to ‘arrange’ the data, the work finds its place on a spectrum between visualisation or aesthetic organisation.
Other works in the data as culture collection start not from datasets, but from artists responses to wider trends of datification. Works such as metography, flipped clock and horizon respond to forms of data and it’s presentation in the modern world, raising questions about data and representation – but not necessarily about the specific data which happens to form part of the work.
Other works still, look for the data within art, such as pixelquipu which takes it’s structure from pre-Columbian quipu (necklace-shaped, knotted threads from the Inca empire, that are thought to contain information relating to calendars and accounting in the empire). In these cases, turning information into data, and then representing it back in other way, is used to explore patterns that might not have otherwise been visible.
YoHa: Invisible Airs
Although it has also featured in the ODI’s Data as Culture collection, I want to draw out and look specifically at YoHa’s ‘Invisible Airs’ project. Not least because it was the first real work of ‘open data art’ I encountered, stumbling across it at an event in Bristol.
In the video, Graham Harwood describes how their different creations (from a bike seat that rises up in response to spending transactions, to a pneumatic knife stabbing a book to highlight library service cuts) seek to ‘de-normalise’ data, not in the database designers sense of finding a suitable level of data abstraction, but in the sense of engaging the participant to understand otherwise dry data in new ways. The learning from the project is also instructive: in terms of exploring how far the works kept the attention of those engaging with them, or how far they were able to communicate only a conceptual point, before viewers attention fell away, and messages from the underlying data were lost.
Ultimately though, Invisible Airs (and other YoHa works engaging with the theme of data) are not so much communicating data, as communicating again about the role, and power, of data in our society. Their work seeks to bring databases, rather than the individual data items they contain, into view. As project commissioner Prof Jon Dovey puts it, “If you are interested in the way that power works, if you are interested in the way that local government works, if you are interested in the way that corporations work, if you are interested in the way that the state works, then data is at the heart of it…. The way your council tax gets calculated… the way your education budget gets calculated, all these things function through databases.”
Everyday data arts
Data as art need not involve costly commissions. For example, the media recently picked up on the story of a german commuter who had knitted a ‘train-delay scarf’, with choice of wool and colour representing length of delays. The act of creating was both a means to record, and to communicate, and in the process communicate much more effectively than the same data might have done if simply recorded in a spreadsheet, or even placed onto a chart with data visualisation.
Data sculpture and data-driven music
In a 2011 TED Talk, Nathalie Miebach has explored both how weather data can be turned into a work of art through sculpture and music, as well as questioning how the setting in which the resulting work is show affects how it is perceived.
She describes the creation of a vocabulary for turning the data into a creative work, but also the choice of a media that is not entirely controlled by the data, such that the resulting work is not entirely determined by the data, but also by its interaction with other environmental factors.
Dance your PhD, and dancing data
When reflecting on data and art, I was reminded of the annual Dance your PhD competition. Although the focus is more on expressing algorithms and research findings, than underlying datasets, it offers a useful way to reflect on ways to explain data, not only express what it contains.
In a similar vein, AlgoRythmics explain sorting algorithms using folk dance – a playful way of explaining what’s going on inside the machine when processing data.
There is an interesting distinction though between these two. Whilst Dance your PhD entries generally ‘annotate’ the dance with text to explain the phenomena that the dance engages with audience with, in AlgoRythmics, the dance itself is the entirety of the explanation.
The fields of InfoViz and DataViz have exploded over the last decade. Blog such as InformationIsBeautiful,Flowing Data and Visualising Data provide a regular dose of new maps, charts and novel presentation of data. However, InfoViz and DataViz are not simply synonyms: they represent work that starts from different points of a Data/Information/Knowledge model, and with often different goals in mind.
Take, for example, David McCandless’ work in the ‘Information in Beautiful’ book (also presented in this TED Talk). The images, although often based on data, are not a direct visualisation of the data, but an editorialised story. The data has already been analysed to identify a message before it is presented through charts, maps and diagrams.
By contrast, in Edward Tufte’s work on data visualisation, or even statistical graphics, the role of visualisation is to present data in order to support the analytical process and the discovery of information. Tufte talks of ‘the thinking eye’, highlighting the way in which patterns that may be invisible when data is presented numerically, can become visible and intelligible when the right visual representation is chosen. However, for Tufte, the idea of the correct approach to visualisation is important: presenting data effectively is both an art and a technical skill, informed by insights and research from art and design, but fundamentally something that can be done right, or done wrong.
Other data visualisation falls somewhere between the extremes I’ve painted here. Exploratory data visualisations can seek to both support analysis, but also to tell a particular story through their selection of visualisation approach. A look at the winners of the recent 360 Giving Data Visualisation Challenge illustrates this well. Each of these visualisation draws on the same open dataset about grant making, but where ‘A drop in the bucket’ uses a playful animation to highlight the size of grants from different funders, Funding Themes extracts topics from the data and presents an interactive visualisation, inviting users to ‘drill down’ into the data and explore it in more depth. Others, like trend engine use more of a dashboard approach to present data, allowing the user to skim through and find, if not complete answers, at least refined questions that they may want to ask of the raw dataset.
Arts meet data | Data meet arts | Brokering introductions
Writing this post has given me a starting point to explore some data-art-dichotomies and to survey and link to a range of shared examples that might be useful for conversations in the coming weeks.
It’s also sparked some ideas for workshop methods we might be able to use to keep analytical, interpretative and communicative modes in mind when planning for a hackathon later this year. But that will have to wait for a future post…
: I am overstating the argument in the blog post on art and data visualisation slightly for effect. The post, and comments in fact offer a nuanced dialogue worth exploring on the relationship of data visualisation and art, although still seeking to draw a clear disjunct relationship.
How often do you get into the really key meetings in your organisation? Getting there is the first hurdle. But once there we also need to be effective.
by Will Mapplebeck
Can I be in the room?
If you work in political communications you’ve probably asked this question a few times and had varying degrees of success. You’ve probably said it in a slightly ironic, Thick of It context as well.
You may have been told there’s no room in the room, that it might not be appropriate for you to be in the room or that the meeting, and therefore the room, may be cancelled after all.
I love being In the Room and I like to think I’m good at getting in there. In my job, it’s my chance to see political big beasts in the wild up close. The other week I was lucky enough to attend a meeting that featured not just one, but two, Secretaries of State plus the Mayor of London and the boss of NHS England.
That’s quite a cast list. In these days of Brexit distraction, attracting a Cabinet minister to an event outside either Westminster or their own constituency on a weekend is an event of asteroid strike levels of improbability.
I wasn’t at the table. I got the usual officer posting of a chair at the side of the room. You may be able to spot me in in the accompanying photo, I’m to the right of the pot plant trying to blend in behind the Secretary of State for Health.
However, if you’re a political nerd like me, being at a meeting like this is heady stuff and generates levels of excitement that Little Mix would if they turned up at your average pre-teen sleepover.
Now, I had of course been told days before that there was no space and it probably wasn’t worth showing up and if I did I could always wait outside and have a coffee. No thanks.
Through a combination of turning up ridiculously early, introducing myself to the organiser and generally assuming an air of entitlement – I am a white, middle class man after all – I got to witness and learn from an important discussion between city leaders and their national equivalents.
So my advice is, get in the room if at all possible and try not to take no for an answer. There’s always room in the room – what’s an extra chair after all?
And what’s the worst that could happen? You’ll be asked to leave. And if that happens, at least you tried and hey, you’ll demonstrate a bit of ambition.
And the rules of In the Room follow if you don’t work in politics. There’s no better way of getting a better grip to the issues at hand than seeing senior people – elected or not – talking about the great issues of the day. Soak it up and learn.
Comms people are privileged to see the big decisions being made up close and, on a good day, are able to influence them. So be cheeky, grab that chair and try to look like you belong in the room.
Will Mapplebeck is strategic communications and public affairs manager at Core Cities UK. You can connect with him on Twitter at @wimapp