Data Visualisation

Software is making it easier to create data visualisations that are interactive and can be shared via the web. For example, we can create maps with ArcGIS and QGIS, representations of networks with Gephi, interactive models of complex systems with NetLogo, 3D renderings of large datasets with Blender, statistical insights with RStudio and Shiny, and script libraries such as D3.js.

In this category of OxTALENT the judges looked for visualisations that tell a story, provide an insight, make the complex simple or illustrate a beautiful pattern in a data set.

Winners: Otto Kässi & Vili Lehdonvirta for Online Labour Index

Labour markets are thought to be in the midst of a dramatic transformation, where standard employment is increasingly supplemented or substituted by temporary ‘gig’ work. Companies are using online labour platforms to find, hire, supervise, and pay workers on a project, piece-rate, or hourly basis. The potential policy implications of this emerging ‘online gig economy’ are not yet fully understood. The Online Labour Index (OLI) is a new economic indicator that provides an online labour market equivalent of conventional labour market statistics. It measures the utilisation of online labour platforms over time and across countries and occupations, and provides a solid evidence base for future policy and research.

Visualisation from the Online Labour Index

Since it is important to make the data accessible, and understandable, to a broader audience than academic economists, Otto and Vili sought a way to build an interactive dashboard to allow interested parties to understand the market at a glance and filter the data according to the purpose.

The judges felt that the Online Labour Index perfectly demonstrates the power of interactive visualisations. They were impressed by the use of the fledgling Interactive Data Network service to build this interactive dashboard using R and Shiny, and by the commitment to making both the data behind the visualisation and the code for the dashboard itself open access. They particularly appreciated the cleanliness of the dashboard design and the slightly unsubtle prompts to the viewer of the interactivity available to them. It was also clear from the submission that the visualisation has helped significantly in getting this topic discussed within government bodies.

Runners-up: Alfie Abdul-Rahman, Nicholas Cole & Olivia Griffiths for The Quill Project: Modelling and Visualising the Creation of the American Constitution

Quill is an ambitious project to make the negotiations of the 1787 Constitutional Convention as accessible and as easy to explore as possible. The fruit of the team’s effort is a powerful website for slicing through this large historical record from different points of view.

One of the judges’ favourite elements of Quill is the ‘secretary’s desk’, which visualises what the desk of the committee’s secretary would have looked like at the end of each day. This provides a very human perspective on the data, allowing the viewer to understand the complexity of the task that the committee was undertaking.

The judges were also impressed by the range of visualisation options, which took into account the wide range of viewers, from academic historians to a general audience.

Finally, the judges appreciated the detail provided on the entry form relating to the development of the tool and recommend others interested in building similar tools to read the entry.

Honourable Mention: Stephen Taylor for Exploring the Use of Virtual Reality for Biological Visualisation and Analysis

Stephen’s entry describes the development of novel tools using virtual reality (VR) headsets for exploring and manipulating a wide range of biomedical and zoological datasets. It includes a forward-looking mission to create a platform that makes will make it easy for researchers to convert their tomography datasets into models that can be viewed using VR headsets.

Although the entry doesn’t quite meet the requirements of the category, the judges felt that it was important to acknowledge the innovative use of an upcoming visualisation technology: namely, VR headsets. They particularly enjoyed reading about the demonstrations of these VR environments at a number of science festivals and noted Stephen’s desire to build a platform to make it easy for others to convert their topographical data into VR experiences. The judges look forward to hearing about this work in the future and suggest that a VR category might be needed in the OxTALENT competition before too long!

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