Monthly Archives: February 2014

How nice to see the New York Times editorial supporting the Global Health Security Agenda and urging the United States Congress to authorize this bill.

A nasty, scary virus.

A nasty, scary virus.

It is important, yes.  There are reminders in the news and incident rates creeping up of neglected diseases as well as viruses most of us don’t know from our childhood, like measles and polio  — but that’s fodder for another blog.

Hugs and praise to the NYT for coming out in favor of investing in prevention of infectious diseases.  Yet I did read the editorial with a sinking feeling of frustration that it cast this Agenda with fear and catastrophe. In worst case scenarios harm from disease can grow to horrific proportions but the reality is slim. Not everyone is at risk and scaring people doesn’t work, or work to the degree that will make  us change our behaviors and practices to make a difference.

Show of hands: Who isn’t exercising enough or is still smoking ,though the public health experts have pounded us over the head with fear campaigns promising that we will die an ugly death if we don’t stop?  Yep, that’s what I thought. We persist, even though research shows that fear theory doesn’t work.

One of my good friends and respected colleagues said neglected tropical diseases lost the marketing battle with its name. It doesn’t instill confidence, does it?

Let’s change things starting with a positive preventative Agenda.  Let’s talk instead about the benefits and value of taking action before we need to go into response mode, rather than attempt to scare the masses. It isn’t correct or fair and, sadly, it misrepresents the benefits of an ounce of prevention.

Dee Bennett

“Big data is companies knowing things about our behavior almost before we’re aware of them ourselves.”

Kai Ryssdal, American Public Media, Marketplace

When did the current rush to turn data into pictures begin?

Perhaps it was when Hans Rosling wowed the world from the TED stage in 2006 with his dramatic data visualizations of global development myths. Data visualization has been around for millennia, of course, and Ren Descartes is credited for inventing the notion of graphing data in the 17th century.  Bar and pie charts followed in the late-18th/early 19th centuries, thanks in large part to the hard work of William Playfair, a Scottish social scientist, according to Stephen Few, author of “Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data.”

As Few details in his excellent white paper on data visualization’s past, present and future, the field exploded in the 1980s thanks to Edward Tufte’s seminal work, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” in 1983, and Apple’s debut of its personal computer.  Suddenly, everyman could become a wizard of telling data stories through pictures.

Now, of course, there’s an app for that, and everyman/woman can make a graphic and via social media share it with an audience of potentially millions in seconds.  Twitter and Instagram are alive with maps, graphs and doodles. The quality of our data imagery varies greatly, but strong pictures are emerging, and we’ve never had better opportunities to literally have a picture of our collective behaviors.

The results are fascinating: The Chinese search engine Baidu heat mapped the migration pattern of millions of Chinese as they trooped home to celebrate the New Year in January.

 

Graphic: Baidu

Graphic: Baidu

And Mediabistro’s “A Day in the Life of the Internet” chronicled how billions of people spend their time each and every day. We could go on.  

On a more serious note, Dan Munroe pointed out in Forbes.com recently, seeing outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases on a map – this one, a world map from the Council on Foreign Relations —  is brightly colored yet hard-hitting proof of the damage of the behavior of refusing vaccines.

Graphic: Council on Foreign Relations

Graphic: Council on Foreign Relations

 

Mobile phone data in particular may be priceless information for development, as a technology pervasive in developing markets.  One mobile carrier analysis showed where folks needed buses in Abidjan, leading to a rework of the city’s transport system. Another mHealth data analysis showed how human travel leads to the spread of malaria.

What does this mean for those of us involved in measuring and changing behaviors? For one, graphic data leads to greater awareness, particularly as information flows across social and mobile media.  We like shiny, pretty things.  And what makes good data visualizations? Some schools, including Harvard and MIT, are helping us move toward a more scientific understanding of what makes visualized data memorable, and the Rhode Island School of Design is working on how best to put across complex scientific concepts.

And as we become more sophisticated in creating good graphics, with an evidence-based understanding of what truly imparts information, we’ll be that much better in conveying ideas in ways that transcend cultural and even language barriers – and changing behavior on a visible, grand scale.

How well are education and health services performing in African countries, based on results for their own people?

Another Option is pleased to announce that we’ve once again been engaged by the World Bank to help communicate the results of the Service Delivery Indicators (SDI) initiative, which provides timely, accurate and rigorous data on public spending outcomes in African countries.

While access to providers has increased, the quality of services as yet remains uneven, and the end result of transactions, including how they relate to expenditures, is tough to measure.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 8.44.38 AM

Coordinated by the World Bank and in partnership with in partnership with the African Economic Research Consortium and the African Development Bank, the Indicators gather actionable data on the quality of service delivery in primary schools and at frontline health facilities across countries and over time. The coalition launched in Kenya in 2013 and recently released results of its survey in Uganda, which were welcomed and discussed by leadership and the public.

Funders include World Bank, DFID, USAID, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Brookings Institution.

Another Option designed and populated the SDI web site; developed talking points and key messages for launch events; and developed materials and visuals for launches. In this new phase, we’ll be helping SDI further develop its web site, including blogs; launch and expand its social media presence; and advance its digital communication, including designing and producing a web dashboard and application.

We’ll also be covering milestone events for SDI:  The 10th anniversary of the Indicators effort, Steering Committee meeting and the release of survey results from Nigeria in mid-March.