Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Turning Statistics into Knowledge - seminar report by Trevor Fletcher

For the last three days I’ve been attending the seminar on “Innovative Approaches to Turn Statistics into Knowledge” held in the wonderful city of Cape Town. The seminar, co-hosted by Statistics South Africa, the OECD and World Bank, has provided a platform for international organisations, statistical agencies, research institutes and companies to showcase their software for visualising data to make it more easily understandable and interesting to a wider audience and we’ve seen some very, very interesting new developments. And as well as seeing the new tools, I learned several new terms for my vocabulary that I shall definitely use at my next cocktail party. These include “informavore”, “informationally obese”, “Homo Statisticus” to quote but a few…

The seminar opened with a session devoted to the use of maps to visualise data that featured, for instance, the combination of Geographic Information System techniques with Neural Network Prediction in an Automated Valuation Model: you heard it here first! There were also other impressive uses of dynamic mapping interfaces such as using the web-based mapping revolutionary era to turn African statistics into knowledge.

Next up was the session on “How to get the most of data with Discovery and Analysis software”. Some highlights were the OECD Development Centre’s presentation (and I’m not being biased here, promise!) on “How IT tools can help support the global partnership for development” that had some very snappy animations, and “Making statistics matter – improved access to Pacific regional information” that showed a very innovative system for users to enter their own data very simply into a very lively web-based graphics tool.

The session on storytelling covered a very broad range of topics which featured a “Children’s HIV and AIDS Scorecard” from South African research institute the Yezingane Network, a presentation of a very comprehensive storytelling software package from NcomVA of Sweden and a personal favourite of mine, the “Statistical Self Portrait” from Statistics Korea.

There were other excellent presentations too numerous to mention that demonstrated that data storytelling software is very much a growth industry.

And to reinforce this fact, the seminar was treated to a premier of the BBC programme “The Joy of Stats” featuring Hans Rosling (who presented his Gapminder software at previous seminars) showing some cutting-edge tools for presenting statistics that fitted perfectly on the agenda of our seminar. So thanks to Hans and the BBC!

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