Visualization for Understanding


The Blue Marble

When NASA released the photograph of the earth as seen from space, known as the blue marble, it gave new impetus to the environmental movement, showing our planet as a small dot in a black void. Seeing is believing. Visualization can be a very powerful tool in sharing complex knowledge. The visualization of social network analysis (SNA) can give us significant new perspectives, not available from looking at a series of data points. For instance, Valdis Krebs examined data on the trust levels of various news sources around the world and how these were perceived by ideological groups. The data table originally provided by PEW Research Center tell part of the story, but the SNA conducted by Valdis clearly shows how conservative media are completely separate from all other media. A similar study of pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian news outlets showed that only one was trusted by both sides, but is getting squeezed by taking a moderate position. Seeing this polarization may help to understand it.

The added value of using a sense-making tool like SNA to further examine information is the core of PKM. Adding value to the information in our fields helps make our knowledge networks smarter and this is how we can collectively deal with more complex problems. Visualization, and new metaphors, are essential for systemic change to happen. They give us new ways to describe and discuss phenomena. In business, visualizing network relationships can give the initial leverage of getting complex new ideas accepted into general management thinking.

I once used value network analysis to help a company’s research steering group see their internal community of practice in a new light. For the first time, they saw it mapped as a value network, not a hierarchy. They immediately realized that they were pushing solutions instead of listening to their community. This was obvious when all arrows pointed toward the user community, and no tangible [solid] or intangible [dotted] value arrows pointed out. As a result, they decided to change their Charter and develop more network-centric practices. Thinking in terms of networks enabled them to see their community with new eyes.
Value Network Analysis (example) by Patti Anklam

There are many ways to use visualization to understand data better. The real value of big data is using it to ask better questions. Visualization can be a conversation accelerator. Here are 10 more sites showing how visualization just might change your world view.

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