A site about how community groups and charities can make the most of data and open data to do something useful. Focused on Birmingham, relevant everywhere.

Data Visualisation Tools for Community Groups


Data Visualisation

Whether you are collecting your own information or downloading open data sets to use,   often what you end up with is a spreadsheet full of numbers.  Unless you know what you are looking for these can be hard to decipher.

This is where data visualisation tools come in.  You can use them can to turn those numbers in your spreadsheet into maps, graphs and charts It will help you display your work and highlight findings – literally visualise what the numbers mean.

A quick Google shows that there are lots of tools out there to do this but knowing where to start is daunting especially when you first start out. I know, as I’m just starting out myself and some of it looks like a foreign language.

I’m going to try and share some of the available tools as I discover them and look what they work best for on this blog. Starting today with the most obvious for me  –  Google’s data tools.

If you already have a Google email address you already have access to everything I’m going talk about below and for free.  They are included as part of the Google tools, either as a default option in google drive, or via an extension.

Google Speadsheets Charts

Google spreadsheets is very much like excel where you can create charts from columns and rows of data, You can  create bar charts, pie chart, scatter charts, line graphs and more. simply by highlighting the data you want to use and clicking on the “Create Chart” button and then running through the options.

All charts are customisable but can also be downloaded as images so you can use them outside of the spreadsheet too – to embed in a blog post or put in a report etc.

Google Spreadsheet Charts


Google Charts

Google Charts is a developers app for displaying visualations in a website. I’m not going to pretend I understand everything in the website as I’m no coder, but even I can tell it’s a great tool for displaying interactive data visualisation on your website…if you’re that way inclined, as well as creating images like those available in Spreadsheeds.

I’ve been looking around and it appears this a good place to the look at using charts in your website if you understand the code.

Google Fusion Tables

Google Fusion Tables is an experimental app from Google, It’s not included in the drive as standard so you will have to install the app from the chrome web store. I know I have barely scratched the surface of what fusion tables can do but I’ve played and it’s a brilliant tool for mapping data.

It seemed really tricky at first and there is still plenty I need to get my head around, but at it’s simplest  if you have a spreadsheet that contains location data you can use fusion tables to put that data onto a Google Map. This map will then also have all the capabilities of zooming etc. you’d expect from Google and you can embed the maps into your website / blog posts.

In addition to a single map you can also layer maps to compare data – I’ve yet to figure this out how to do this in tables, but this afternoon I came across a tool someone has created to make it a copy and paste job. This tool also makes embedding the layered fusion table maps easy, (and single maps too ) you can just take the generated HTML and copy and paste onto your site/blog.

If using you’re using wordpress you need to do this in HTML view and then NOT return to visual view before publishing as WordPress strips out the code – If I can I’ll write a follow up post on how to do this directly from tables as it also does something funky to the formatting that I’ve got to try and figure out. The map above is from the layers tool mentioned above.

But if you’re still not sure about embedding from fusion tables or using a tool as it seems complicated you could still use the maps for yourself or once you’ve got the map on screen you could use a programme such as Skitch to capture images of your screen to share easier.

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