Nothing good ever comes for free, or does it? Data gurus and analytic consultants charge top dollar for their services and provide clients with valuable insight and great data, but is this money well spent?
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Truth be told, great data need not cost a dime. We are awash with great, free data sources; we just need to know where to look.
All too often, ‘the government’ becomes some a sort of abstract, amorphous entity onto which we can project our gripes, groans and moans, but – it may surprise some of you to hear – it is in fact good for something.
Regardless of your political affiliations, the everyday mechanics of government keep our society functioning effectively. What’s more, they also provide us with great data. Injecting a social element into your data visualization is a great way to develop a wider narrative, and to forge profound connections with your content users.
Government agencies should be your first port of call in achieving this. In the United States, bodies like the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, President’s Council on Fitness Sports and Nutrition, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis can provide you with a wealth of data, free of charge.
Of course – as no man is an island – no country is an island either, apart from Ireland, Iceland, and a few others, but you understand my point; we are all part of the global community, and our visualizations should reflect this. Beyond the borders of the USA, you will find many rich sources of data just waiting to be accessed.
Organizations such as the World Bank have open data policies which enable content producers to access high-value, ultra-reliable data mines, while the CIA World Factbook carries an exhaustive array of datasets on nations from every corner of the globe.
The European Union, as well as other international organizations, provide similarly reliable data on nations within their respective jurisdictions. Meanwhile, the UNDP’s Human Development Index is another fantastic source of data which is, like all the other options on this list, free to access and utilize.
Non-Profits and Charities
Non-profits and charity organizations understand the importance of data-dissemination, and they also understand the importance of this resource. With this in mind, it may not surprise you to learn that some of the top non-profits and charities operating today are also amongst the top sources of free data.
Organizations like UNICEF and Amnesty International provide visualizers with data which cannot be matched in their respective fields, adding an extra level of integrity, reputability and reliability to the narratives we produce.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Data Analysis Group provide similarly plain and reliable data, unfiltered by the prisms of interpretation or judgement. This sort of pure data is precisely what is required if our endeavours are to be successful.
Open Data Projects
Of course, these are not the only organizations who are committed to providing information to the masses, on a variety of topics and in a variety of forms. There are a multitude of different open data projects, each one aimed at shedding light on a particular area of the data universe.
Some of these are very specific – like the Million Song Dataset, with its insight into modern popular music – while others are more general, such as Harvard’s Atlas of Economic Complexity, for example.
Many of these open data projects are run in conjunction with educational institutions, including the University of Uppsala Armed Conflict Database. With a bit of research, these incredible resources can provide the key that unlocks a supremely effective piece of data visualization.
Visual Data Experts
There are organizations operating within our very midst whose passion for data presentation and visual reliability has led them to provide rich sources of data to visualizers. You will probably be well aware of a few of these already.
Publishers like Moz and HubSpot are already touchstones when it comes to reading up on SEO and content marketing, but they should not be overlooked when it comes to gathering data for use in crafting stunning visuals.
Getting in touch with great data doesn’t necessarily require venturing out of your office. In fact, it may not even require a working internet connection. You see, much of the data that we search for via different channels, is actually readily available to us already, at our fingertips.
It’s time to look inwards, to examine the pieces of analytic software, the customer management systems and other digital architecture that we construct around our businesses, to better understand the processes we carry out on a daily basis.
You might be amazed by the level of insight this provides, and by how far a little bit of digging in your own backyard can take you. Furthermore, this information is unique; it is exclusive to your organization and is not available to anyone but yourself. This level of exclusivity is vital when it comes to producing authoritative content of genuine worth for the user.
Customer Feedback Loops
There are other ways to maintain this level of exclusivity, of course. One such way is by using customer feedback loops. While customers may not be totally loyal to your organization, and therefore other companies may be able to access them and the data they provide, this is something of a long shot. In reality, the responses your customers give are likely to be unique.
By posing the right questions and by gathering data in a smart and savvy manner, your customers can become one of the go-to weapons in your company’s visualization arsenal. Don’t overlook the worth of this kind of data asset.
There is no shortage of data available to us; we just need to look in the right spots. By combining various sources and by spreading our net wide as we search for the next piece of data to drive our organization onwards, we can ensure that our visualizations lead the pack.
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