“Looking at the data from different perspectives and different sources gives us more accuracy,” said Pedro Lenhard, Researcher and Creative Analyst, Department of Public Policy Analysis at the think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV). This deceptively simple statement captured a conversation about how to turn dense government information into easy-to-understand data for the public.
Pedro leads a diverse team of PhDs, mathematicians, graphic designers, and analysts to uncover trends in public policy in Brazil at FGV, building easy-to-understand infographics and interactive visualization tools for the government. “A think tank can feel very academic, but FGV provides this data directly to the public,” explained Randy Almond, Head of Data Marketing at Twitter. The mission of Pedro’s group is twofold: to raise important questions about society and improve the quality of public policy “so that people can demand more from their government,” Pedro explained.
One project captured the public’s use of emojis and emoticons across Brazil to understand people’s moods. The simply visualization was a tool FGV used to attract people to the company’s website, and allowed people to experience social data in a fun way.
FGV transforms traditional public policy topics and opens them to non-traditional audiences. One FGV project expanded the conversation on immigration in Brazil. Where Brazilian immigration law traditionally focused on the role of human rights, FGV used data about migration patterns to uncover that Brazil has not attracted many highly-skilled professionals. By viewing migration patterns around the world, FGV was able to inform new law on immigration policy.
The 2014 elections in Brazil were accompanied by political upheaval, including demonstrations and protests. During that time, FGV developed the data into a visualization that tackled a few topics: which parts of the public hold divergent view about candidates, which groups hold similar views, how people changed sides throughout the the election process, and which individuals influenced the political debates. Pedro explained, “It’s not a view of the whole, but it’s a snapshot of a fraction of society—and that fraction tells us something.”
Pedro’s and his team’s work shows how dense data can be made into data that a wide variety of people can understand. It’s not simply a repackaging of data in a visual way—it is a new experience of social data. “It takes something that’s complex and makes it into something we can enter into,” said Randy.
*Update: You can find links to some of the work that Pedro and his team produced below.
1) Social network analysis // 2014 Presidential Election – https://vimeo.com/124409337