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Map showing accessibility to cities 2015. Image: Resource Watch, accessed 6 October: https://bit.ly/3iymJj6

Turning User Feedback Into Smart Digital Design.

Martin Dubuisson
Oct 6 · 7 min read

Article co-written with Emily Nilson, Product Manager for Resource Watch at the World Resources Institute. It is also published on the Resource Watch blog.

For open data to truly be accessible, it needs to be easy to find, understand and visualize. With Resource Watch, our mission is to make data access as simple as possible — and to do that we need an intuitive, functional and beautiful design. Our users are at the core of what we do — and their needs underpin every design and development decision we make. We recently launched a new version of the Explore page that was over a year in the making, identifying and creating new features in direct response to user requests. Here are three lessons we’ve learned from users to help create the best curated environmental data catalog out there.

Note: the feedback and requests mentioned below are real, heard throughout our user research. But the names and identifying details have been altered to protect our users’ privacy.

Lesson 1: Users want more ways to explore the data.

Meet Raj. He works on air quality policy. His days are spent managing campaigns about air pollution and its impact on public health. His goal is to find ways to illustrate how air pollution contributes to climate change, how it affects respiratory health, and what can be done to address it. Data is critical to this, especially data that shows current air quality and where concentrations of certain pollutants are high.

Raj has several data websites he visits when looking for data to support a campaign. But he finds many of them overwhelming — cumbersome catalogs that are difficult to navigate or search results that yield hundreds of irrelevant or untimely datasets.

We’ve heard this a lot from our users. They want better ways to explore the data so they can more easily find what they’re looking for — in Raj’s case, near real-time data on PM 2.5. So with this update, we took our Resource Watch data catalog of 300+ datasets and made it more accessible, intuitive, and easy to navigate.

“To bring RW to the next level, it would be great to have highlighted or suggested content.”

Discover is where you start. These are the things we’re excited about sharing with you, whether it’s a dataset that is the first of its kind, data related to current events, or data that was difficult to process and visualize that we want you to have easy access to.

All Data is where the whole catalog lives — over 300 datasets and counting! You can still search and filter using the search bar (including filters for topic, data type, data frequency, and time period) and sort the results by last modified, most viewed, most favorited, and date added.

Near Real-Time shows our 50+ datasets that update in near-real time, as frequently as multiple times a day, letting you track events on the planet as they occur. This section provides you with the latest updated data, whether that is the latest station measurements of PM 2.5 or the latest satellite-detected fires.

Topics lets you easily filter our data catalog by your topic of interest. Clicking on a topic like Water or Ocean shows you all of the datasets tagged as relevant to that topic. A new feature here is that each topic has a link to the related Dashboard. These Dashboards are curated by the Resource Watch team and provide a snapshot of complex global issues so users can learn more.

No more overwhelming catalog, no more wondering where to start. Now Raj can easily find the air quality data he is looking for to build a strong public health campaign.

See more about using the new Explore page in this training video.

Lesson 2: Personalization is key.

Maria is an Environmental Education Coordinator who spends a lot of time thinking about more creative ways to bring data into her classroom and to her fellow educators. Like Raj, she has a few websites she frequents to find data she can use in her different classes — mainly a 7th grade science class and an 8th grade geography class. She often finds datasets that would be useful on these various sites, but right now she has them stored as a jumble of mobile and desktop bookmarks, making it difficult to find what she needs when she needs it. She also gets frustrated that she constantly has to deal with the trial and error of finding the correct search terms for the data she needs across different sites.

This is another thing we’ve consistently heard from users over the past few years — wanting a way to easily save and access datasets for later use. We had the ability to save datasets as “favorites” before, but they were only accessible in My Resource Watch and had limited functionality.

“Being able to save datasets that I know I will go back to regularly is key! Because it is about the efficiency of my time and educators’ time.”

Now, on the new Explore, your favorites and collections show up right on the map. As you browse through the data, clicking on the star icon allows you to add it as a Favorite or add it to a Collection. These collections, curated by you, can be used to store datasets on different projects you’re working on, articles you’re writing, classes you’re teaching, or simply different topics you’re interested in. These will show up on the left panel next to the map whenever you’re logged into your free Resource Watch account.

So get those datasets organized! Maria now has a central repository for the data she needs, sorted by class. For her science class, which is studying the ocean this month, Maria can show which rivers around the world are emitting the most plastic into the ocean, where there are currently coral reef bleaching alerts, and where fishing vessels around the world are spending the most time — all on the same page.

See more about using Favorites and Collections in this training video.

Lesson 3: Data curation fosters trust.

Lastly we have Eduardo, a GIS and Data Analyst working on climate adaptation for his city government. His goal is to compile the best data available on sea level rise projections, infrastructure, and impervious surfaces that he can use in his GIS modeling to help evaluate what measures his city can take to have the most impact on their resilience.

To him, the source is the most important factor in determining whether or not he can trust the data. Seeing a source he recognizes and respects immediately fosters a sense of trust. Yet too often when he’s searching for data, he finds himself having to dig into several menus to even locate the source. And sometimes that’s the only information that is provided — not the spatial resolution, methodology, purpose of the dataset, nor the potential cautions for using it. This not only wastes a lot of his time, but makes it difficult to properly evaluate if the data can be used in his work.

“As a GIS person, the first thing you should ask yourself is ‘where is the data coming from?”

Throughout our user research, we’ve seen users interact with data platforms, see a data source they’re unfamiliar with or misinterpret something, and immediately dismiss the entire site. And we’ve had users admit this to us too — one data source that isn’t familiar or one poorly-worded dataset title is enough to turn folks off from a whole data platform.

That is why the Resource Watch team has dedicated so much time and effort to identifying the absolute best, most authoritative data on every topic we show on the platform. Our Data Guiding Principles explain how we do this.

So while you can rest assured that every dataset you find on Resource Watch has been personally vetted by our team, we’ve also made the dataset details very accessible in the new Explore page. The new design — which opens the metadata page in a sidebar instead of a new tab — allows users to access all the information they could want about the data without leaving the map. The source and date are highlighted at the top, and you can dive into the dataset purpose, methodology, cautions, citation, spatial resolution, and frequency of updates as you scroll down. If you have several datasets open on the map, just click the “i” button for any dataset on the legend and the metadata page will appear. From this page you can also easily share the data, download it or go to the source organization to learn more.

With this updated interface, users like Eduardo can access the information they need to assess a dataset for their next analysis.

See more about the new metadata structure in this training video.

The feedback provided by Raj, Maria, Eduardo, and other users like you was crucial to the development of our new and improved Explore catalog. Our mission is to make finding and using the data you need as easy as possible so that you can use it to create powerful change in your communities — and we hope that these improvements make it even easier to do that now.

As we continue to improve Resource Watch, input from our community of users is tremendously important to the growth and development of the platform and its impact on the world. Thank you to the many users who helped us shape the new Explore! If you would like to share your feedback on this update, or join any user testing conversations or user workshops in the future, send us an email at resourcewatch@gmail.com.

Martin is User Researcher at Vizzuality. From conservation experts to forest monitors, he talks to the users of our platforms and studies their behavior. He likes birdwatching and walking in new neighborhoods, he misses dancing and ethnographic fieldwork.

Vizzuality Blog

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

Martin Dubuisson

Written by

Hola! I’m a design researcher @Vizzuality. Mainly reading, perhaps sharing.

Vizzuality Blog

Posts on data design, user research, open data, and software development. We create tools and applications with a lasting benefit to society and the environment.

Martin Dubuisson

Written by

Hola! I’m a design researcher @Vizzuality. Mainly reading, perhaps sharing.

Vizzuality Blog

Posts on data design, user research, open data, and software development. We create tools and applications with a lasting benefit to society and the environment.

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