Data or information on its own can be pretty boring. It can even be relatively ugly. But it doesn’t have to be that. Information is Beautiful, a website dedicated to showing how to display data in informative yet entertaining fashions, is one of the inspirations for the Urban Voice Team and in particular The Map.
The Map on Urban Voice relies on data, as do all of the infographics on Information is Beautiful. The creation of any of those images relies of accurate datasets, precise interpretation and a keen understanding of how to display the information in a visual manner. Here ar Urban Voice we have an easier time than the Information is Beautiful crew, however, we only have to display the information on the Map.
To display anything on a map though requires an additional level of accuracy that most statistics do not have – precise location information. For a map this can be done through three different systems: grid coordinates, latitude & longitude, or Global Positioning System (GPS) points. Every piece of information has to use the same system to identify its location; otherwise the information cannot be compiled and displayed on a map.
When relying on crowdsourcing, as Urban Voice does, getting accurate locations can be difficult. This stems from a number of factors including: 1) Cultural bias 2) Device Input 3) Knowledge. Language and culture influence how one views and locates themself in the world. In Phnom Penh, in particular, Cambodians often to navigate the city based on landmarks such as pagodas. Foreigners more commonly refer to addresses and cross-streets. Both result in different information when one provides a report to Urban Voice. The Team will never solve this problem completely, however we have a tutorial video to aid those new to submitting reports.
Whether one is writing a report on a computer, tablet or mobile phone should not affect what information is provided. Yet it does. Attempting to submit a report about a flood street from a smartphone is not always that easy, especially if the location is not at a junction and easy to identify on the Map. This is generally due to screen size and time. To remedy this, the Team is working on a mobile version to make submitting reports easier. It’s harder to strengthen knowledge about maps and mapping. We try to provide as much guidance as possible, but there’s never a guarantee that everyone will understand.
That is true even for the input of other data, not just location information, that’s why the Team works hard to ensure the reports posted on the site are correct. To help in ensuring accuracy we also rely on the crowd to highlight incorrect reports. Other datasets that Urban Voice relies on come from organizations that have publicised the information, such as the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) and the National Institute of Statistics (NIS). These are used, but with the caveat that the information has not been independently verified.
The difficulty in doing this stems from the fact that the RGC appears to have difficulties in producing and providing quality data. As a recent article in the Phnom Penh Post highlights, different ministries produce different – and not always compatible – information that researchers rate as of low reliability. They attribute the poor quality of data to politics and corruption.
This is the first part of a three part article about good data. The second and third parts are to follow shortly, so be sure to check back for more.