How can visualization help citizens use open data?

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Open data refers to the free access and reuse of government data — excluding private information such as personal medical data. The concept of establishing a portal for open data is fairly new.

Visualization of city activity, such as traffic, in Helsinki

IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge sent a team of six experts – including two researchers from the Haifa lab in Israel — to Helsinki. Their mission was to provide recommendations on how visualization could be used to make the city’s open data more accessible to the citizens. The idea was to boost citizen engagement and improve democracy.

After three weeks of work, the team produced a final report with specific recommendations on how to turn data into visual information that would encourage action and drive citizen engagement. Just a few examples that the team suggested include using symbols like a tree to explain how the budget is divided up, projecting the city’s consumption of electricity onto a building, or using touch screens to get feedback in places where people congregate.

“We started off with boring looking data,” explained Avi Yaeli, IBM Researcher from Haifa. “But when you can take the data and transform it into a visual story that helps people discover and understand new ideas, it’s an exciting way to get citizens involved.”

You can read more about the team’s experience here.

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