Big Data, Maps and Visualizations

The Hacks Hackers New Delhi group conducted an event on “Big Data, Maps and Visualizations” in the city yesterday. It was an interesting mix of programmers or “hackers” and journalists working on digital and print media. The idea was to create prototypes where graphs can be created from the data available on various fields and inferences can be made from the visualisation of the data. It is a classic case where programmers and journalists can come together to create meaningful and interesting reports.

Earlier even though one had access to data, the sheer volume of it could have made it very difficult for him to analyse it. Although it didn’t stop great reports to be published, now dealing with such huge volumes of data can be made very easy by blending a little technology in the field of data analysis.

Let me give you an example. A group in the event worked on availability of doctors in the country. Oh, you do not have to scratch your head for that. It’s abysmal 6 per 10,000 population (source: World Bank). This group first tried to find out statewise data on availability of doctors, vacancy for the posts of doctors in government hospitals etc. They took datasets from and using google Charts API made graphs which clearly communicated the horrible state of our public health infrastructure.

Another group did a very interesting visualisation of data on rape cases and the conviction rates in different states in India. They used colour coding on the map of India to make their point. Similarly another group used the heat map to visualize the IMR of various states in India. They used an opensource Heatmap Javascript library to generate the picture.

I too joined a group. We tried to find out how important education is to the overall development of the nation. We took a survey of people present there and nearly everyone felt that education is very important. But the data showed no direct relationship between the literacy rate and the 5 parameters of development that we chose.

We didn’t have much time to delve deeper into the question. Of course, I am not suggesting that we should neglect education. By all means we should strive to achieve 100% literacy. But we should also raise meaningful questions about the status quo. And such visualizations should enable the citizens to participate in the debate on the course of development that our country should follow.

For the technology part in our prototype, we at first used google Fusion Tables. Then we switched to Highcharts js. It did not require much coding and I think it can be incorporated webpage/presentation by anyone with very limited knowledge of html and JSON.

Overall it was a fun event to learn new stuff, interact with people and discover the strength of the new technologies that has unleashed a whole new set of possibilities to represent data.