Socrata Connect Rewind: How Visualization Unlocks the Value of Data

October 24, 2016 1:14 pm PST | Data as a Service

From getting the latest sports scores to reviewing the most recent census findings, the demand for data is rising — and fast. The rise of technology increases our demand for data-driven services; we place a higher value on access to information than ever before. But as data visualization specialist Jon Schwabish shared at last year’s customer summit, how we share data is key to unlocking its value.

Here’s what else Schwabish had to say at last year’s event.


Most governments realize the value of data as a powerful form of currency, but placing it online isn’t the goal. Data is valuable when people use it.

There’s a continuum. Data starts as not being readable and evolves to being understood by humans.
There’s a continuum. Data starts as not being readable and evolves to being understood by humans.

Schwabish discusses the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which shares data about finances, employees, and libraries as open data. While the data is machine-readable, the institute uses acronyms and abbreviations that don’t make sense to most users. The next step in their data journey is to ensure that people can understand what the data means. Visual data is a great way to boil down lots of information in a way that is easily understood and recalled.

So how do we know what information is important to share and the best visual way to share it? Schwabish suggests collaboration is key. While most organizations are made up of silos of experts in specialized fields, he suggests breaking down those silos and getting “coder folk” and “policy folk” to work together to combine their domain expertise and accurately identify needs, challenges, and solutions.

For organizations looking to best capitalize on data, Schwabish recommends four simple steps:

  1. Build a team: No individual is an expert in analysis, design, and programming. It’s best to build teams of specialized experts in each of these fields that can collaborate for best results.
  2. Embed the team: Break up silos and update workflows to bring teams together in a collaborative process to fill gaps. Teams working closely with decision-makers will help drive positive change.
  3. Change habits: Identify cues, routines, and rewards to change old habits and make data visualizations better (i.e. highlight data, add color, and reduce data to tell important stories).
  4. Build success: Start with small projects, demonstrate the value of data visualization, and build on successes.

Schwabish notes that unlocking the value of data with visualization requires thinking about your audience and what they need. “Think about how you can use data within your organizations to improve the way [you] work and to change the culture in your organization so that data and the communication and analysis of that data becomes an essential part of your workflow.”

Reserve your spot today to see Jon Schwabish and connect with hundreds of government data peers at Socrata Connect.