What data viz tools are you using?

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    • #663
      Aimee Silva

      We’d love to learn more about the work and experiences of those already using different data visualization tools, from off the shelf software products to custom design.

      Tell us…
      – a data viz tool you use
      – what you use it for
      – why you love it (and/or where it frustrates you)

      If you have a link to the software site or to what you’ve created (if publicly shareable) add it to your post!

    • #664
      Hayat Askar

      I use a simple dashboard on excel. It is an interactive dashboard that uses pivot and that allows you to play with the data the way you want.

      I have two dashboards, one for the trinees with all their details, and one for the KPIs. I use it for monitoring and evaluation.

      What I like about it is that it is free and I can build it easily. I can play with the disaggregation the way I want.

    • #671
      Michael Edwards

      Greetings RHINOs and welcome to the RHINO Forum on Data Visualization. I hope you were able to attend the webinar this morning that Amanda gave. I found it very informative, and I especially liked the brief history of data visualizations that she presented. If you didn’t see it, go to the link on the Forum Post announcing the webinar, and you can see the recording.

      I would like to tell you about my long history of supporting Ministries of Health with the development of computerized data visualisation tools (Decision Support Systems or DSS) linked to national health information systems. My first system was in Niger where in 1994 we implemented a DOS-based DSS. We were working on the analysis of the Nation Health Information System data (SNIS, or Système National d’Information Sanitaire) for the annual report. We needed certain analyses, like time-trend graphs for key diseases, and a graph of the top 10 diseases at the national level, and we thought that if we needed these graphs for the national level, then they were also needed at the region, district and health facility level as well. So we developed a system that was flexible so that any indicator in the SNIS system could be graphed in some pre-defined graphic templates – time trend graphs, regional comparison histograms, and pie charts. The data was in dBase III, and we developed the DSS using Clipper and dGE (data Graphics Extender).

      When everyone started using Windows, people would see our DOS-based system and say “That system does exactly what we want, but we want it in Windows”. So we started developing Microsoft Access-based Decision Support Systems with Active-X objects Graphics Server for the graphs and ESRI’s MapObjects LT for thematic maps. We chose these tools because they had royalty free distribution, so we could distribute our applications without having to make people pay for the application. They just needed Microsoft Office.

      Now, people see our Access-based systems and they say “That system does exactly what we want, but we want it web-based and open source”. For these web-based Decision Support Systems, we are using the open-source programming languages PHP and Java Script, and we are using HighCharts for the graphs and the Google Maps API (Application Program Interface) for the maps. We are also working to develop links to both routine and non-routine data sources using existing APIs. For routine health information system data, the DHIS 2 application has an API that we are working with to connect with routine data, and the DHS (Demographic and Health Survey) also has an API that you can use to link to non-routine survey data.

      Speaking of the DHIS 2 and DHS, both have built-in Decision Support tools that you can use. DHIS 2 has the Data Visualizer and DHS has the StatCompiler. We’d love to hear from those of you who have used these tools, and what your experiences are with the use of these tools.

      Thanks, MikeE

    • #672
      Allison Schlak

      For picking out icons, I like to use the noun project. It has thousands of icons you can choose from, and you can you can even recolor your icons before you download them (this is a new feature that I particularly like)!

      I also like using the data visualization catalogue to help me think through the different options for examining relationships and visualizing them.

      For building dashboards, my favorite program is tableau. There is a bit of learning curve to the software, but it is an incredibly powerful software with advanced features for data visualization, including maps, charts and pivot tables which can bring meaning to data if properly configured.

    • #674
      Sophia Magalona

      Excel is my go-to tool for data visualization. Everyone I work with is familiar with Excel, so that has been the easiest to use especially when it comes to collaborating on visuals and having it modified by the comms team. Lately I’ve been exploring visualizers for qualitative data. I find Excel is really good with that too (heat maps – see Jennifer Lyons’ Qualitative Chart Chooser). Besides Excel, I like to use Gephi for network mapping and have been learning some tricks in R.

    • #675
      Michael Edwards

      Thank you Sophia, Allison and Hayat for your posts about the various data visualization tool that are available and you have found useful. I’m sure that the most frequent tool in use today is Microsoft Excel.
      Please check out this PDF file that lists many Data Visualization Resources and Tutorials that you may find useful:

      Also, the resources that Allison mentioned and some others can be found here:
      Website for diagrams: http://www.duarte.com/diagrammer/
      Website for data viz: http://datavizcatalogue.com/
      Icons: https://thenounproject.com/

      best wishes, MikeE

    • #685
      Becky Wilkes

      Thanks for the great links, Mike!

      I thought perhaps I should chime in. I do a fair amount of work in Excel. I find pivot tables, charting, and data-driven displays to be useful and pretty intuitive. I often go from Excel to Powerpoint for final editing, as I find PPT to be more flexible with layout.

      But being a geographer, I use mostly ArcGIS and QGIS. These are both very powerful programs, in that they perform complex database operations as well as giving a very wide variety of display options. ArcGIS online, though more restrictive in its capabilities, is a bit more accessible to beginners, but as it requires your data be posted in the cloud, is not appropriate for much of the work that I do here at MEASURE Evaluation, UNC. All 3 programs have wonderful base map options that can make your maps interesting and provide context and a sense of scale for the overlying data being displayed, but they all require an internet connection to stream that base map data.

      I’d say the biggest disadvantage to the big GIS packages is that not only do they have a fairly steep learning curve, they require that the user understand a great deal about not only underlying data structures, but also about appropriate ways to portray spatial data. While the data display is probably the most fun for me (maps always get people excited), most of my time is normally spent formatting and exploring the underlying data, in order to best prepare it for display.

    • #686
      Michael Edwards

      Thank you Becky for your post to the RHINO Forum. I think that Excel is probably the “Go-To” tool for most people that work with taking raw data to the stage of visualization. I find that I use Microsoft Access for almost all of my data management tasks.
      You also mentioned 3 powerful tools for GIS, in which one aspect of GIS is the visualization of spatial data. RHIS data is so conducive to geographic presentations, since facilities have geo-coordinates and are located within districts, regions and countries. Of the 3 tools you mentioned, I’m a big fan of QGIS. This is because it is freely available and open source. I know that the 2 ESRI products you mentioned, ARCGIS and ARCGIS online are the “Cadillac/Mercedes Benz” tools of the power users, but I find the pricing of these products as deal-breakers. Now I can see asking a developer to pay for a developer’s license, but I’m not a fan of paying an annual fee to use the software. So the challenge remains, what do we use for our web-based geographic visualizations? Although I’m currently using the Google Maps API, I find it works great for putting points on a map, but thematic or chloropleth maps I find more of a challenge, and I’m still looking for something more user-friendly that is freely available and open source.

      • #688
        Becky Wilkes

        Hi Mike,
        I agree with you on being a fan of QGIS! It’s amazing what it will do, and with no licensing fees.

        I would also like to add that a basic ArcGIS online account is free. Though it does not carry the full data analysis capabilities of the paid desktop version, it is great for viewing a basic areas shapefile, such as one appropriate for choropleth shading (e.g., darker colors for districts with higher rates of disease) which can be plotted on top of ESRI’s free-to-display base map information (you can choose from a number of different background styles, and set the shaded layer to be partially transparent, on top).

        It can also plot x, y and label coordinate information from a CSV file (CSV stands for “comma-separated-values”, and can be exported from Excel). These points can be viewed in various shapes and sizes, which can change according to various values stored for the points, in the same spreadsheet. For example, if you had x,y coordinates for health facilites, you could show hospitals in one symbol, smaller clinics in another, and pharmacies in another, and you could label each with its name.

        A good workflow is to create and export shapefiles in QGIS, and then export them to ArcGIS online, for viewing and sharing. Though as I mentioned earlier, this would not be appropriate for sensitive or individually-identifying information.

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