Data Visualization as a Tool for Social Change

  • Posted on: 28 February 2014
  • By: Margaux

Got data? Too much, maybe? Read this story of how Achieving the Dream put some data at the fingertips of its network, and is helping them use it to form strategic partnerships that create bigger changes across their community college campuses. The Interventions Showcase is a new online content discovery tool that uses interactive data visualization techniques to help community colleges connect with, learn from, and help each other.

It's a paradox: the current generation of college-age Americans will be less educated than their parents’ generation; however, our workplaces require higher-level skills than before.

This points to a fundamental problem of our educational system: it's not adequately preparing our workforce.

Achieving the Dream sees community colleges as a key to reversing this trend. Their program offers support and guidance for community colleges to analyze student data, identify areas for improvement, then address the problems.

For years, colleges who participate in Achieving the Dream have been reporting on their on-the-ground activities toward improvement. But all the juicy information has been on paper, or in Word documents at best. This year Achieving the Dream took that information online, to help colleges learn from each other.

The Interventions Showcase begins with a tree map, which gives the user a broad overview of the subject areas in which colleges are working to make change. Even though it includes nearly 500 programs at over 100 colleges, it's easy to understand at a glance the degree to which colleges are targeting their efforts in different subject areas.

tree map

Users can easily interact with the tree map, and drill down to find information about programs ("interventions") of interest.

For example, a person working at a college with a high percentage of ESL students might drill down to look at other colleges' programs targeted at ESL students, or look primarily at interventions in states with high immigrant populations. On narrowing to a smaller number of interventions, s/he can identify a core group of colleges s/he'd like to contact and discuss their experiences in trying to address some of the same issues.

The tree map provides a simple, concise visual way to digest a large set of data. It allows website visitors the ability to interact with and understand the data, use it to help make connections with other colleges, and work together toward accomplishing goals.

You can read more about the challenge and Achieving the Dream's solution on their website.

Kudos to:

  • Achieving the Dream’s staff, who worked countless hours to organize these reports and move the data online.
  • Mike Crow of Crow Insight, who designed and developed the interactive data visualization using Tableau software.
  • Michael Daryabeygi and Frank Gómez of Ginkgo Street Labs, who developed early versions of the Showcase, without which the data visualization could not have evolved. They also developed the back-end of the Showcase, through which colleges are now able to report their progress directly each year.

Technical assistance and project management was provided by Margaux O'Malley of Grand Junction Design.

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