Civic News

Data viz whiz Kate Rabinowitz on the shortcomings of data viz

As city data becomes more open, understanding its limitations becomes even more important, Rabinowitz argues.

Open data isn't enough by itself. (Photo by Flickr user ThatMakesThree, used under a Creative Commons license)

No data point exists in a vacuum. And if you’re trying to explain the world using open data (a worthwhile pursuit!) it’s important to take into account the context in which the data exists and was created.

So we are reminded this week by an excellent blog post that first appeared on the D.C. Policy Center site and was later reposted to DataLensDC, Kate Rabinowitz’s blog that is generally dominated by data visualizations explaining life and change in the District.

The post uses an example of a data visualization on pedestrian safety, which Rabinowitz argues is not very well constructed. “All data is not created equal, though, and how data is created must be factored into any analysis,” she writes. “What could the creators have done differently? At a minimum, the data should have been put into context with its limitations explained.”

Read the full post

As the D.C. government strives to make more data open data, she goes on, using this data responsibly becomes an even bigger imperative. “The increasing openness of city data is a great opportunity for citizens, researchers, journalists, and businesses,” Rabinowitzw writes, “but the use of this data must come in tandem with an understanding of the inherent limitations of data.”


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