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Open Data. Open Source. Open Planet.

David González
Apr 11, 2018 · 5 min read

People who need fast access to reliable, trustworthy data about our planet have a powerful new resource at their service. Resource Watch is a platform that links technology, data and human-centered design to generate insights that help us explore and analyse the environmental challenges facing our planet, but more importantly, we hope it helps people understand and act upon them. With hundreds of datasets all in one place, Resource Watch optimises recent developments in open technology to make data easier and faster to access than ever before.

Vizzuality is proud to be part of the collaborative effort that brought Resource Watch into existence, working on the user research, data research, design and development of the project and platform. The Partnership, which is led by the World Resources Institute, is an example of what we can achieve when different organisations and skills are brought together. In a world full of divided opinions and junk news, Resource Watch provides access to trusted data and visualisation tools that can support researchers, analysts, journalists, policymakers and citizens.

The cloud’s the limit.

The advent of cloud computing and storage, together with the boom in open data, was a seismic change in the history of data publication. Organizations and governments around the world could now publish all the data you could possibly dream of and open up access to anyone who wants it. But this created a new problem: finding the data you actually need in a format you can actually use. Resource Watch brings together trusted, reliable data on the state of the planet’s resources, commerce, environment and people all in one place. Instead of mining the internet for data, people with a specific subject in mind can visit one place and find all of the relevant data sets — they can even subscribe to an area of interest and get notified when something changes there. Users can find, upload, compare and visualize data in one single platform.

Open data is dependent on cloud infrastructure. Services like Google Cloud Engine and Amazon Web Services allow us to access data sets from many different sources and tap into them when we need them. An Application Programming Interface (API) acts as a gateway that makes it possible to access these scattered data sets from one location, such as the Resource Watch platform. We built the API that connects Resource Watch to all of the various data sets you can find there, and we did it using open source technology so anyone can create new functionalities, add to it, and reuse it in other places. Right now, the API is being used to share data with Global Forest Watch and PREP, as well as Resource Watch.

Your data, your way.

Even though Resource Watch offers access to hundreds of data sets, we know most people using the platform will have a specific subject in mind and a set of places they already go to for their data. We want to break down the silos that exist between different groups of people and make sure they find all of the data that’s relevant to their work, not just a portion of it. To support this discovery of data, we designed a selection of exploration and recommendation options. A search and filter tool in the ‘data’ section will present all the relevant data sets, while the topics section explores trends and provides context through expert-curated insights.

Once the right data has been identified, the researcher can explore how the data sets are connected, compare them to their own data and create customised visualisations. By allowing people to make their own analysis and discoveries, they should feel more ownership over that new knowledge and take action based on what they have learned.

To support the creation of visualisations, we opted to use Vega. It’s a declarative format for creating, saving, and sharing interactive visualisation designs that allows us to describe the visual appearance and interactive behavior of a visualisation, and makes it easy to share, re-use and customise. Vega is deployed in the front end application, giving users the option to seamlessly build graphics that meet their specific requirements and share them exactly as they see them with the world. For an application that’s all about generating and sharing, it was perfect for our needs.

Sharing is caring.

Everybody shares everything these days — some might say we overshare. But sharing knowledge is how we can change perceptions, opinions and minds. It’s also a great way to start conversations, and to teach replicable examples on how to drive insights from data. To help people spread the knowledge they have learnt, we made sure that every map, graph and table looks good enough to share without any editing. Professional looking maps and graphs can be embedded into reports and news stories with ease, reducing the need for specialised design or coding skills.

We hope people all over the world use Resource Watch to tell important stories about our planet. With so much data to explore and too little of it being put to use, a platform like Resource Watch is making it easier and faster for anyone who has a problem to understand or an idea to test. Open data and open source technology are lowering the barriers that used to stop people learning about our world and sharing their insights with others.

We think this could be the start of something big. Something exciting. Something that might just change the way we do everything. Share your stories with us and we’ll share them with our friends. We can’t wait to see what you’ve found.

Explore Resource Watch today.

Vizzuality Blog

Posts on data design, user research, open data, and…

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