Friday 11 May 2007

Got 20 minutes? (Taking open data to another level)

I know. Who has? But if you can find it I really recommend watching this video (brought to my attention by Peter Suber on the SPARC Open Data list – thank you!). It’s a very interesting presentation by Hans Rosling where he de-bunks a few myths about the "developing" world. Rosling is professor of international health at Sweden's world-renowned Karolinska Institute. He is also the founder of Gapminder, a non-profit that brings vital global data to life.

In the first 15 minutes he provides a fascinating overview of the changes that have occurred in the world over the last 40 years in terms of child survival rates, average number of children per woman, life expectancy at birth, distribution of income, GDP per capita. The graphics he employs to make this understandable and engaging are wonderful. In the last 5 minutes he turns to the issue of the availability and usability of data (digital curation bells!!)

Rosling poses the question “why are we not using the data we have?” and answers:

“The data is hidden down in the databases. And the public is there, and the Internet is there but we have still not used it effectively. All that information we saw changing in the world [in the demonstration] does not include publicly funded statistics. There are some web pages like this …but people put prices on them, stupid passwords and boring statistics. And this won’t work!”

He then asks, "what is needed?" His answer - "linking data to design."

That’s where Gapminder comes in. The website describes its purpose as:

“… filling a gap. There has been a market failure in distributing global data. A lot of people are interested in the data, but don’t get access to it (and if they manage to access the data, they need to be advanced skilled statisticians to analyze it). Gapminder wants to make data more accessible and easier to use for instant visual analysis. We believe decision makers, politicians as well as education at almost all levels lack adequate tools.”
The software is proving popular with many. Ben Hyde has blogged:
"These gapminder charts are just marvelous. They are a exemplar of what we should expect from data presentation going forward. Printed data’s days are numbered."

My main thought here is that better access to the data and greater understanding of what it demonstrates can only be a good thing in terms of international health and development.

But also, the software is not limited to use with international health data. The usefulness of its application to all types of data is ripe for exploration!

See Peter Suber's blog post on this topic

Image by Ilya Eric Lee on Flickr CC-NC-ND

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