Fall 2018 — Workshop #3 > Making Decisions with Visual Data

Bo Rodda’s diverse background, experience and training in visual arts, industrial design and data analytics has given him unique collaboration opportunities – “we can’t make good decisions if we can’t see data – and we need all the people making decisions to see it as well."

During our workshop #3, Bo shared multiple collaborative projects in Chicago both with research and educational institutions – from his work with Argonne National Laboratory exploring how might we make data centers more efficient by understand the heat effect of data centers in the built environment, to the provocative maps produced by the collaboration between SAIC (arts) and Northwestern University (science) students through the Data Viz Collaborative – studying data set of CPS schools of choice. The theme and scope of these exercises vary from sustainability to social equity, but they are all trying to bring visibility (and therefore awareness) into issues and challenges that need attention in our built environment. The underlying question in these visualization exercises focuses on how to communicate the findings in an engaging and meaningful way – could designing data as art be a pathway to explore this goal?

Bo’s practice navigates between the academic and professional environments often participating in collaborations were data needs to be “understood” – to understand data, we need to see it, Bo emphasized. The proliferation of “big data” and access to these “data sets” does not mean we are understanding the massive amount of information that we are being able to collect. Chicago is known of being a City of Open Data, and making data sets available through the City of Chicago Data Portal; although it’s a considerable amount of data, it is relatively recent that has been made available (downloadable) to the public, and research efforts have slowly been tapping into this broad resource. The fact that we more access than ever to data, does not mean that we understand the information that we have access to or the optimal way to integrate this information in our decision making processes. Bo has joined efforts trying to work with some of this data as a resource for education, advocacy and decision making processes, including participations with Data Science for Social Good with University of Chicago and Chicago: City of Big Data exhibition in collaboration with Chicago Architecture Center.

Most recent work by Bo is focused teaching at IIT’s Inter-Professional Projects Program (also/better known as IPRO) – a course where “my goal is primarily to have students understand both the topic and the data available.” He prompts his students with the following: “Think of a data set as a source to pitch a story to the Tribune and prove it”. In a way, Bo is teaching storytelling through data. This is a very compelling aspect of his work – could we come up with a way in which this data might be meaningful to somebody? Are we even asking the right question(s)? The key word here is meaningful – then the question is: if this information is meaningful, would more people care? Would those with decision making positions/power related to our cities pay attention and take more informed decisions? Overall, the hope seems then to be that if we continue these efforts making data visual, would have more chances of making an (positive) impact.

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