Data visualization is a hot topic within the data science field.  As researchers and program analysts continually look for ways to convey complex geospatial and temporal information to a wider public audience, visualization tools and techniques provide new and effective ways of representing population data in dynamic but simplistic visual formats (e.g. interactive maps, infographics, etc).                          

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Fig. 1. Screenshot from hivcontinuum.org, Fig 2. Screenshot from Fast-Track Cities

Geographic Information System (GIS) software is becoming more mainstream, as mapmaking is combined with disciplines like epidemiology, geography, criminology and political science. This rising demand was confirmed in 2014 when President Obama launched an initiative to help K-12 students participate in digital learning, with GIS software developers being a key player by providing a free online subscription to all students.  We are seeing the same  emphasis in HIV/AIDS data with sites like AIDSVu, HIV Continuum (Fig. 1), and Fast-Track Cities (Fig. 2).

In a world where technology is changing at an ever increasing pace and more and more people around the globe have access to the internet, evidence-based research and publically accessible data should be disseminated clearly and quickly to be relevant and actionable in the digital age.  The ETE Dashboard focuses on data visualization in order to provide an interactive environment for policy/decision makers, researchers, students, community members, and all other ETE stakeholders, beginning with our HIV testing visualization which was released in April 2016.  This interactive module, which displays HIV testing rates by New York City neighborhood, allows the user to view data by geographic area with the ability to filter between different demographic groups.

Critics argue that although visualization tools hold promise for interpreting data, the complex nature of aggregate level health data makes it important to avoid over-reliance on visualization as the only means of understanding relationships between multiple factors. There are certain challenges with visualizing data that must be considered: (1) maps often have more power to influence their audience than traditional formats for displaying data, so viewers must always critically examine the sources and the wider context; (2) maps represent population-level data and should not be interpreted as evidence of causal relationships.

Critical thinking is still required and is essential to effective utilization of data visualization tools. However, as insightful as it can be, data visualization alone may not be comprehensive enough to drive decision making and program planning.  Keeping these challenges in mind, the ETE dashboard utilizes multiple visual formats, and aims to integrate various data realms and sources. It provides the ability to display previously siloed information on key ETE metrics side by side, furthering the goal of painting a more comprehensive picture of New York’s progress to end the epidemic by the end of 2020.

 

What visualizations would you like to see on the ETE Dashboard? Contact us at feedback@etedashboardny.org