Visualise it: software makes the most from data

APPLICATION: Data in its raw form is meaningless to most, but turn it into a graph or put it on a map and suddenly its message is clear, reports Technology Review.

The Heart Foundation's application of StatSilk's visualisation software
The Heart Foundation’s application of StatSilk’s visualisation software

Data in its raw form is meaningless to most, but turn it into a graph or put it on a map and suddenly its message is clear, reports Technology Review.

With funding, accreditation and reporting requirements, aged care organisations routinely collect a lot of information and data. Analysing it can provide a valuable way of identifying areas where gains have been made or those requiring improvement.

However, making good use of the “enormous” information collected by aged care organisations is a big challenge within the sector, according to Professor Barbara Horner, who spoke with Australian Ageing Agenda in 2014 upon her retirement from Curtin University and four decades working as a clinician, educator and researcher.

“There are very few organisations who really know what to do with the data, know how to report on it, know how to analyse it and understand it. Therefore they don’t get the value out of the data they have collected,” Horner said (AAA, Nov-Dec 2014).

She suggested sharing, visualising, graphing or mapping data because people are much more informed when they are helped to understand it or shown how they are going.

Seeing that you have decreased your falls rate, medication errors or skin tears graphed is so much more meaningful than collecting the data and filing it away in a computer, she said.

Similarly, utilising data in the public domain, such as health and demographic information, can be useful in other areas such as business planning.

But where to start?

Enter Statsilk, a range of free and paid web-based, desktop and mobile app software to create visualisations, graphs and interactive maps with your own and external data.

Offerings include StatPlanet to create interactive maps and graphs to visualise location-based statistical data and feature-rich interactive infographics and StatTrends for creating and embedding interactive charts and graphs.

Think bar and column charts, scatter plots or bubble charts, time series graphs, bullet graphs, vertical bubble charts, and multiple indicators time series graphs and more.

The Heart Foundation's application of StatSilk's visualisation software
The Heart Foundation’s application of StatSilk’s visualisation software

StatSilk general manager Frank van Cappelle founded the organisation after StatPlanet won the World Bank’s Apps for Development competition. He has reached his goal of getting most United Nations agencies using his products, for free, and is aiming for governments and their agencies around the world to do the same.

There is a simpler product that is completely free for everybody, a more advanced product, which is still free for non-commercial use including not-for-profits, and a paid web version to publish online, van Cappelle told Technology Review.

Van Cappelle was one was of 23 Australian technology innovators who presented to a panel of industry experts and an audience of entrepreneurs and investors at Tech23 in Sydney late last year.

He impressed the event with a demonstration of the application via the Health Foundation’s Victorian Heart Maps plus his philanthropic approach to encourage the sharing of information, and took out the Intersective Best Education Enterprise Award.

A key feature of the software is that it is simple and quick to set up and use, van Cappelle says.

“You just import the data by pressing a button. It is really easy. That has been a core focus to make it easy for non-technical users. Currently no training is really needed. It is self-explanatory,” he says.

“A spreadsheet is all you need. It will recognise your format. It can even be used to link databases where some of the names might be spelt differently. You can even teach the software the different spellings. That is actually an open source tool which comes with the software. It is useful even beyond visualisation.”

Aged care organisations could use the tools to visualise their own data as well as with other databases and other sectors, he says.

“The software is very useful for that because it allows you to integrate data from different sources.”

Paper-based organisations wary or technology should look to the possible benefits, says van Cappelle, who works with many countries through UNICEF still using paper-based systems where technology uptake is a real hindrance.

“What I try to advocate is [that] people are submitting data and they don’t have great motivation because they don’t get anything back from it. One thing the software can be used for is to provide some kind of feedback.”

It is not just about your own data but also about connecting it to get comparability by linking it to other information out there including data from other countries.

“To have this comparative data is better to compare trends in the data that you wouldn’t have seen before. Visualisation is great for that.”

To see how the Heart Foundation has used StatSilk check out the Victorian Heart Maps.

Tags: barbara horner, curtin-university, data, Frank van Cappelle, Health Foundation, information, StatSilk, Tech23,

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