Visualizing sustainable development in DataRepublica

August, 2021

Jaime Gallego
Researcher in the Data for sustainable development Unit

The data revolution has increased the volume of relevant information to measure progress in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Latin American and Caribbean countries. For the most part, these data come from traditional sources such as National Statistical Offices and to a lesser extent from non-traditional sources mainly associated with academia and civil society.

However, there is no point in having large volumes of data if there is no capacity to analyze and communicate them. For this reason, data visualization is an essential tool for information analysis, facilitating its interpretation when making evidence-based decisions.

Data visualization is the graphical representation of information and data

"By using visual elements such as charts, graphs and maps, data visualization tools provide an easily accessible way to see and understand trends, outliers and patterns across data."

Tableau, 2019

The importance of data visualization for sustainable development in DataRepublica

The objective of visualization is to simplify the language in which data is presented in such a way that ideas, conclusions or results obtained from data analysis can be communicated, allowing any user who is not a visualization or data expert to understand in a simple and coherent manner the studies and research that use data. In DataRepublica, this visualization component is of great importance to promote the generation of knowledge and strengthen decision-making processes in relation to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

"It is a fact that graphs allow us to convey ideas in a simple and easy way. However, in situations where data volumes are very large and there are a large number of variables, graphs may not be enough. In such cases, more elaborate visual schemes are required, such as Dashboards, whose structure is based on the use of multiple metrics, indexes, data or graphs, which by means of interactivity allow for a more efficient analysis of information, as opposed to individual or segmented analyses that only yield partial results."

It is worth noting that DataRepública through its modules (Conecta, Publica, Aprende and soon Analiza) has established itself as an instrument of great regional scope for the dissemination of analysis, and evidence based knowledge for sustainable development.

The Publica module features a powerful tool called data stories that communicates facts or ideas based on data analysis (Cepei, 2019).  Through a visual format, based mainly on the use of Dashboards, it makes relevant thematic content available to users, allowing them to understand the context and/or progress in the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Latin American and Caribbean countries.

In this sense, data stories must comply with minimum standards in terms of visualization, where the following aspects must be taken into account:

Correct metrics and dimensions to interpret the data.

Adequate graphics, which depend mainly on the type of data used and are considered the most appropriate for interpreting the selected variables.

Impact visualizations, that is, clear visualizations, without visual distortions and in accordance with the thematic contents of the story, where simplicity and the use of shapes such as symbols and colors to express trends or results are emphasized.

Interactivity, allowing the user to customize their analysis through filtering, highlighting and relationship tools through the use of Dashboards.

User-friendly designs in which a balance is sought between the tones used and the sizes depending on the type of graphic. Likewise, the use of graphic attributes that may overload the visualizations and extensive texts, which may generate visual distractions, must be avoided.

However, "the art of visualizing data" is a whole process that requires great detail and a certain sensitivity to convey ideas and communicate, which is acquired with experience.

The main challenge of data visualization for sustainable development

The biggest challenge facing data visualization is that the graphs themselves manage to communicate all the milestones that are to be conveyed. This is because data visualization is very useful for sustainable development decision-makers who are not always data experts and who are expected to be its main users. Another fundamental aspect is related to the processing of the data, which will become the input for the visualizations. It is necessary to have cleaned databases where inaccuracies associated with incomplete or repeated data or inconsistencies in the units of measurement are eliminated.

Finally, capacity building is essential to strengthen technical teams working with data for sustainable development in different public or private institutions, so that they gain skills in data analysis, visualization and communication. Of course, achieving this requires investments by organizations in training teams and acquiring tools for data visualization and dissemination.