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Thursday, 24th May 2012 Please login top-right to be able to star items

By Joanna Ptolomey


Recently I have found myself cooing over visualisation maps (and heat maps) of health and well being resources. The content rich data is overlayed with mapping technologies, and some interesting themes and patterns are emerging.


Recently I have found myself cooing over visualisation maps (and heat maps) of health and well being resources. The content rich data is overlayed with mapping technologies, and some interesting themes and patterns are emerging.

But we need to see more – my project needs more big data.

Here on the LiveWire we’ve had plenty of comment on bid data – big data solutions and gizmos, is it a big con, or just too clever for end users?

One thing I have learned over my many years specialising in health and social information is that there is no shortage of content. We just haven’t been very good at sharing. Well, maybe I should qualify that statement by saying that the technology sharing capability was somewhat limited.

Indulge me whilst I harp on about health data and content. So much of our health is influenced by the way we live our lives – that means your education, where you work, what you do, how you spend your leisure time, where you live, your levels of disposable income, what you eat – these all have an influence on your health. To get the full picture of health we need a myriad of data. To solve and design services around health and social care we need to be able to create the big picture – we need all of the apple pie.

We never had a shortage of big data. We just didn’t know what to do with big data. And each healthcare provider, third sector organisation and public sector services like housing, regeneration, sports and libraries, social care services were all busy spending money on generating and/or collecting the same content. This is a multi-layered multidemsional process.

I have been checking out Patchwork Nation project recently from the Jefferson Institute. A project that quite simply delivers national data with a local context. The added twist is that it must be visually interesting too. It is a demographic and geographic breakdown of the US nation into 12 different types of community. Counties are used as the building blocks.

In an interesting report from the Guardian, Patchwork Nation mapping technology was used to correlate disease with socioeconomic status. It correlated the disease most prevalent to each county showing clear regional patterns. Prevalence reporting is hardly ground breaking in health, but this level of overlapping and layering of content is what we have always wanted to do. My guess is that it took a fraction of the time and cost.

This morning I was trying to work out how I could change the mindset and culture of a national public sector organisation over sharing their information, their big data. No mean feat before lunchtime on a Thursday I can tell you. But that is the reality.

In my experience people like to hang onto their big data. But they also want to share, they may also have a mandate to share and to not reinvent the wheel at every turn. They may also have receding budgets. But it is hard to change. It is scary. I feel that pressure too.

Big data, I need me some more of that. As an aside project I am working on ways and processes to do that, cos in health we do not need more data we just need to be better at sharing our big data.



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Joanna is a freelance information consultant and analyst. She started her career in information as a clinical librarian in the NHS before moving to global consultancy group DTZ. Prior to working in the information sector Joanna was a project planning engineer in the construction industry for 10 years.

She hopes to help people use information for assessing risk, making decisions and in governance. She is particularly interested in inequalities issues such as accessibility, information literacy and the information divide especially in the healthcare sector. She is the author of a chapter 'Digital divide and accessibility' in Government Information Management in the 21st Century. She is also the author of the book Taking charge of your career: a guide for library and information professionals.

You can follow Joanna on Twitter.

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