Data Explorer

The Data Explorer is an online tool for science communication and citizen science developed by our ParCos researcher, Natasha Tylosky, during her research at LUT University. The idea behind the data explorer is to provide a platform that encourages users to connect different datasets between various fields.

The opening screen of The Data Explorer

Project Overview

Scientific data is not always accessible to a wide public. Even if data is open source, it can be difficult for people to access it. This is particularly the case when they lack a scientific or technical background. What’s more, non-scientists rarely get the opportunity to contribute to data that may be important to them or even directly related to them. When researchers are outsiders working with local communities, data accessibility and inclusivity are especially important.

Our researcher’s solution to this was to build the Data Explorer. This tool serves researchers in their pursuit to include non-experts in the research process. By introducing a novel way to combine and visualise various datasets chosen by scientific experts, the Data Explorer enables laypersons to interact with and curate different data sources and encourages them to add their own data stories to this interactive space.

What is the Data Explorer?

The Data Explorer is an online tool that allows the public to view and explore scientific datasets related to a particular topic. All of these datasets have been curated by a group of researchers. In the current prototype of the Data Explorer, all the datasets are related to biodiversity in Helsinki. Here, users can first familiarise themselves with these different datasets by viewing short, summarizing data comics. These comics illustrate the information that is present in a specific source. Secondly, they can click on a link to the actual dataset. This enables them to easily explore that dataset further by themselves. Finally, users can create and upload their own stories about the datasets in The Data Explorer. In so doing, they can bring their perspectives of the datasets into this interactive space.

For example, if you notice that the populations of both squirrels and bats are rising, you can write a story about why you think that is happening. Maybe there are more green spaces in Helsinki? Or maybe there is less pollution? It’s up to you to find out!

A data comic about trees in Helsinki in The Data Explorer

The Data Explorer uses a ‘constellation’ layout. A constellation in The Data Explorer centres around a general topic, in our prototype that topic is biodiversity in Helsinki. Likewise, each white point or ‘star’ represents a dataset, and every white circle represents a data story. Lines that connect different stars show if different data stories share a dataset. It is, moreover, possible to sort datasets by theme and location: stars that relate to a selected theme share the same colour, while stars relating to a selected location turn into a diamond.

Try out the public prototype of the Data Explorer yourself!

The shape and colour of the ‘stars’ have changed based on the themes and location that have been selected in the side menu.

What makes this data visualization layout unique information-wise, is that it is possible to scale this constellation visualization in or out, to the micro or macro level, to display different related datasets. In future versions of the Data Explorer, different constellations could potentially centre around different connected topics. This way, the Data Explorer can serve to show relationships between diverse data types, even if they don’t have an immediate apparent connection. Put differently, it can help users identify new connections between different selected topics.

Future Evaluation & Iterations

The current version of the Data Explorer will be tested by a much wider audience. This test will include a control group, and there will be future releases of the Data Explorer as Natasha progresses with her research. The next goal of this project is to conduct an ‘in the wild’ study. A future version will thus be tested in a setting like a classroom or community centre.

Source

Tylosky Natasha. (2021). Parcos Data Explorer, Deliverable 6.2. of the Horizon 2020 project ParCos, EC grant agreement no 872500, Lappeenranta, Finland. 

Student assignment on creating data stories with different levels of participation

From September 2021 till January 2022, 17 students of Media and Information Design (LUCA School of Arts, campus Brussels, Belgium) created a wide range of participatory data stories on the topic of climate change. These third year Bachelor students were already trained at designing data visualisations, from creating non-fictional stories to shaping interaction design. For this assignment, they were asked to bring their design skills together. The process was guided by the ParCos Storyteller: a ParCos tool for guiding participation in data storytelling. Students were introduced to existing data stories that ranged from inviting the audience to interpret data and discover storyline(s) (see Figure 1 below, left), to participating in the story by contributing data, or even adding their own data story(line) (see Figure 1, right). 

Figure 1. Level of participation in data storytelling
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Exchanging inspiration for participatory science communication with students and media professionals at VRT

As part of the ParCos project VRT organised an inspiration session for young creatives and experienced media makers to think about new participatory ways of communicating science. On the 9th of May, 18 students of Media and Information Design from LUCA School of Arts visited the news department of VRT, the Flemish public broadcaster for a workshop with 6 creative media professionals. Together, they brainstormed about how current visual representations of science and data in a news context can be made more engaging. 

Continue reading “Exchanging inspiration for participatory science communication with students and media professionals at VRT”

Exploring public displays to bring scientific information to a broader audience

As part of the citizen science project AstroSounds, VRT worked together with students of LUCA School of Arts to create short, animated videos for public displays that deliver the scientific story in an engaging way to a broader audience. The videos were shown on public screens in the library Tweebronnen in Leuven and accompanied the physical installation of citizen science project AstroSounds.

Read more about the case study here.