Today I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr Mei-Po Kwan from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, whose extensive work consists of analysing data with GIS in a mixed-method research. GIS has long been used by geographers and planners as a valuable tool to spatialize quantitative information, but Kwan has revisited the technique by building tools that incorporate qualitative data as well. That is a growing need considering new lines of research that acknowledge that conventional GIS is not enough to capt people’s feelings and perceptions (such as fear or place attachment). While past research usually relied on pattern recognition algorithms, recent technologies such as sensors and personal GPS have allowed for collection and analysis of individual complex data.
How residents perceive and use space is now a central concern for researchers focusing on people’s well-being and sense of place. The method called geo-narrative combines spatial patterns, analytical data and also social/behavioural information to generate an interpretive mode of analysis of large complex datasets (i.e. based on lived experiences). One important tool for narrative analysis, for instance, is called 3D-VQGIS, which permits adding images, audio files and texts to maps. Within the interface, the researcher is also able to code those texts according to nodes, a functionality common in qualitative analysis software such as NVivo. Another method presented was Ecological Momentarily Assessment (EMAs) which consist of live surveys of user’s sentiments on pre-determined or randomly selected spaces and time by questioning them via their smartphones. Sketchmap and cognitive mapping can also be used to assess user’s perceptions through participatory activities – all forms of connecting social aspects to GIS.
Furthermore, an additional factor that adds complexity to geo-narrative models is their ability to incorporate time. Points and georeferenced locations as we find in GIS are a stable information, but in fact, moveable points and populations are increasingly important. As Kwan pointed out, most of the times the key question is not related to where people linger but how they move and where their trajectory is affected by space and sentiments (Image 1).
Image 1: “Space-time paths of individuals collected with GPS can provide more accurate assessment of their exposure to environmental risk factors (e.g., traffic-related air pollution, carcinogenic substances, etc.) when integrated with detailed data about the
spatial and temporal variations of these risk factors.” Image and legend pulled from: meipokwan.org
Another idea that can be revisited is that of geographic units of analysis, which have traditionally consisted of census tracts or neighborhoods. The problem with cartesian and state imposed boundaries is that they do not correspond to residents mobility and living habits, thus, such spatial and temporal uncertainties can lead to misleading results which Kwan names the Uncertain Geographic Context Problem. However, linking models to behavior and travel patterns provide researchers with a new form of establishing such geographies.
Finally, the challenge remains on how to conduct detailed and statistically significant geo-narrative projects. Meanwhile, it provides us with a comprehensive form of building a new theory based on events in space and time which can serve as a basis for predictive models. Detailed literature on Geo-narrative and geovisualization is available on meipokwan.org.
I have recently had the pleasure of going home for the holidays – home being the city of Fortaleza in the Northeast region of Brazil. It is no secret that Brazil has been an economically stable country in the past decade and its cities have been trying to catch up on years of stagnation in terms of infrastructure and urban development. This December I noticed several measures being implemented in Fortaleza with the goal of developing the transportation network such as the long awaited construction of a subway and bus rapid transit system.
As part of those transportation policies the city has also implemented a bike sharing system and has slowly been building bike lanes across central areas (Image 1). The lanes have not been added without controversy: in a city dominated by automobiles for so long it is almost impossible for the middle class population to accept dividing street space with pedestrians or bikes. Bikes are associated to the poorest people and many consider it a vehicle used in robberies. Those preconceptions do not exist only in Brazil, but several American cities have also not been able to advocate for the importance of bicycles.
Image 1: Bike sharing station in Fortaleza sponsored by a local health insurance company. Source: http://www.unimedfortaleza.com.br/portal/bicicletar_principal.html
What I find interesting is that while researching the development of bikes I learned that it was once quite popular in the United States. So in this post I will expose a bit of that entertaining history.
The modern two-wheel bike with gears was developed by John Kemp in 1885 and by 1890 bikes had taken over the nation in the period called the “bicycle craze”. The widespread use of bikes originated the “Good Roads Movement” where advocates for improved roads led by bicyclists turned local agitation into a national political movement being responsible for paving several roads across America. Bikes were also an important social equalizer as everyone was able to ride one, due to its affordability. During the social movements of the 20th century, the “toy” represented freedom and became a symbol of feminism, of the fight against restrictions in everyday life ranging from a lack of mobility to the Victorian dress (http://www.crazyguyonabike.com ) (Image 2).
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)
Image 2: Women wearing shorts while riding bikes. Photograph by Hermann Landshoff (1905-1986) for LIFE magazine.
However, around 1897 sales plummeted – the bicycle was no longer fashionable. Cars became a desired object and the highway movement further encouraged automobiles (Image 2).
Image 3: The Los Angeles Cycleway, once called “one of the most noteworthy infrastructues of California” was replaced by a freeway. Source: http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/in-1897-a-bicycle-superhighway-was-the-future-of-california-transit
The Sixties arrived, marked by an oil crisis, the hippie movement and a remodeled 10-speed bicycle which was not as expensive. It started being used more for recreational purposes and for children but that era still represents an advancement into reintroducing bikes as a mean of transportation (Image 4).
Image 4: advertisement for a Bike catalog in 1963.
The Millennium generation has arrived and in the midst of a hipster, young crowd came a new bike boom. As people have moved back to the cities and realized there is not enough space for cars, there is a gap in the transportation means used and bikes are becoming once again a useful locomotion device. The design scale of bicycles inherently discourages sprawl while promoting a closeness that urbanists strive for. New policies such as Traffic Calming and Bike Sharing fit into the new movement that supports bikes as a sustainable alternative.
Fighting this movement is unrealistic – not saying that using bikes (or buses, or cars, or walking) will save the world, but policies need to support this mode as an alternative to those who wish to use it. In several countries bikes have already been embedded in the culture despite extreme weather conditions or large distances (often brought up as to why the use of bikes is impossible). My advice to Fortaleza: while gas prices increase, the dollar becomes more valued and society worships more and more physical fitness – sit back and relax because the “hipster ecologists” of the 21st century will probably win this fight.
Today I had the opportunity of attending a workshop in Hartford, CT called Presenting Data and Information taught by statistician and Yale professor Edward Tufte. He is noted for his writings on information design and as a pioneer in the field of data visualization (Wikipedia) – his several books illustrate beautiful examples of how design can be used to successfully convey data.
The workshop, in which there were at least 500 people, was somewhat an informal lecture about key important points for the presentation of data, while examining visual examples and passages from his own books. In this post I will summarize interesting aspects mentioned by Tufte, which are often irreverent and unconventional, therefore appealing to researchers who seek to embrace complexity in their research findings.
ADVICES FROM TUFTE
“We have had enough of little graphics”
When presenting your data, researchers should refrain from using those graphics in which numbers are translated into a picture. That visual form takes effort from people in order to translate it (its color coding, fonts and so on). Little data does not need to be shown in charts, just put it into the text! The designer should minimize this “design figuring out process” – people have not come to your display to learn about coding, they have come to learn about your content.
“The strongest aspect of your research should be its own content.”
A presenter should use designs that get non fictional information through to the viewers in order to achieve high rates of information flow. One should go right into the material for the presenter’s role is to guide an audience through a content and not to convey or teach the information. When information is given correctly to people, they can have their own perception and reading of it.
“Get your presentation out of your own voice and give them to experts.”
One should always showcase clearly the name of the authors for a determined content – that helps credibility in several ways by showing that research has been done. Names often have reputations attached to them: for credibility, accountability and competence – provide credentials after a quote.
“Do whatever it takes!”
Do whatever it takes to explain something – use all the methods needed. Do not limit yourself to just one strategy by closing your mind in the beginning about which strategy should be taken.
“No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing.” E.B.White
“Don’t get it original, just get it right!”
“The best that design can do is to do no harm.”
“See with an open mind but not an empty head. Keeping an open mind does not mean that you have become stupid, but just that you are willing to entertain contrary ideas.”
ABOUT YOUR PRESENTATION
1) Always arrive to your meetings early.
2) Your meetings and presentation should always will be 20% short- people will be more alert and interested.
3) Every meeting begins with a document which should be read before: paper/laptop/ipad
Why is it that the only way that people can get information is by looking at a bullet list shown in a screen? The rate of information transfer just approaches ZERO! No wonder people just fall asleep – they spend too much time waiting for info. If you give them a document and retire the Powerpoint, viewers will be able to look at content in their own time (Image 1). Do not worry: the fact that you do not have a powerpoint does not mean that you have not lost control, you have after all prepared the document!
Image 1: Jeff Bezos talks about Amazon’s staff meetings and the usage of a document in the beggining of the meeting. Source: http://conorneill.com/2012/11/30/amazon-staff-meetings-no-powerpoint/
4) People prefer to listen to themselves – than the speaker – than other people in the audience.
5) If the exact sciences, the document given should begin with an abstract: what the problem is, its relevance and what are you going to do about it as a solution.
That abstract is probably the only thing that people are really going to read, so make sure it is done right.
Finally, for those hoping to come out of the workshop being able to produce the beautiful graphics as Tufte does, the event must have been disappointing. However, design is not something that can be easily taught in bullet points in one conference room . A successful designer has a pictionary of beautiful examples in his mind, and that personal database is what will make his future illustrations possible. In that train of thought, the 4 books that participants have received represent a wonderful acquisition to provide inspiration for successful and clear design illustrations (Image 2). Those visual resources aligned with Tufte’s unconventional ideas about research and academic findings, constituted an event that was worth going to.
Image 2: 4 books received during the workshop. Source: Lara Furtado, 2014.