Case Study: Use Google's Free Tools to Animate Your Data

Submitted by Brett on Wed, 05/11/2011 - 11:23am

By Andy Krackov, Assistant Vice President, Programs & Partnerships, Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health

At the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health, we publish data on children's health and well being in California through our own www.kidsdata.org website. The site makes it easy to find, describe, and share wide-ranging facts – millions of data points in all - about how kids in California are faring.

With a robust data website like ours, why, then, would we want to make use of Google's data offerings, as we did when we looked at the rise in autism diagnoses? In short, the charts that Google makes available are slick, especially in the way they animate data. Google's tools can be of benefit to wide-ranging nonprofits that work with data.

In our case, Google's chart animation allowed us to clearly communicate the increase over time in autism diagnoses, as compared to other special education diagnoses. In the autism post, click on the bar graph tab, then press play to see how Google makes it easy to animate data. The effect can be quite powerful and attention-grabbing, which is a key consideration for an organization like ours working to raise the priority of children's health.

It's relatively easy for nonprofits to create these charts: Just upload your own data into Google Docs – the data can be on any topic of interest to your organization – build your animation, then grab the code to put on your site/blog. Even better, Google offers this service for free (other than the roughly 30 minutes to an hour it will take you to build your animated chart).

In addition to integrating these charting capabilities into Google Docs for individual users, the search giant is also building out a comprehensive site, Google Public Data Explorer, which, so far, offers dozens of indicators from data sources worldwide.

Our foundation is experimenting with Google's Public Data Explorer, too; nonprofits can upload public data into this system. Our thinking is that if we can make data available through Google itself, we may get even more exposure to the issues to which we're trying to bring attention.

Unlike Google Docs, however, we've found that Google's system to upload data into Public Data Explorer – called Dataset Publishing Language (DSPL) - is somewhat cumbersome to use, requiring us to have at least some programming knowledge. This requirement has slowed us down, but we're still trying to figure out how this new language works, especially as Google transitions DSPL into something more user-friendly for those uploading data.

The upside of using Public Data Explorer is too significant for us to ignore. After all, given its reach, Google has the capacity to draw more attention to our data than we potentially can through kidsdata.org. The same surely applies to most nonprofits. And, once these data are uploaded, Public Data Explorer offers some engaging data displays.We're hoping that Google will simplify the upload process for Public Data Explorer – that is, the DSPL language - to the point where it will be worth our time to add our data to Google's own site.

Andy manages the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health's data and information offerings. The goal is to promulgate this information across California to raise the profile of children's issues and improve their overall health and well being.