Democratising the Rising Data Tide

Data flows from wireless objects, sensors and processors all around us. And yet, this data may only be accessible to a select few. If knowledge is power, then the Internet of Things favours those able to easily collect, access and interpret information. The less data-savvy are being increasingly left behind.

Hoping to reverse this trend and navigate a rising tide of data is QUT Design Lab PhD candidate Daniel Filonik. His research project, DataChopin, is a prototype that explores the notion of participatory data analytics and the democratisation of its capabilities.

“While large public and private entities can rely on data scientists and experts to derive meaning and value from data, individuals or smaller businesses cannot afford to make such investments,” Filonik explains.

This asymmetric relationship between data collectors and data collection targets is a major obstacle for unlocking a more widespread adoption of data, along with the associated societal benefits.

“To counter that, my thesis proposes the development of interfaces to support collaborative, community-led inquiry into data,” the PhD candidate and German native said.

The DataChopin collaborative visualisation interface is the practical outcome of this effort, developed over the course of multiple iterations spanning across three different use cases.

“It allows for simple, touch-based interactions for composing visualisations.”

DataChopin’s distinctive characteristics are its use of large-scale, interactive displays as a shared desktop to involve multiple users in the analysis. It allows for simple, touch-based interactions for composing visualisations. This experience helps users to easily comprehend and manipulate large volumes of data.

To test its capabilities, in late 2016 the program was deployed at Wandering Cooks, a Brisbane community hub providing kitchen space to street food vendors.

Participants were concerned that delivering high-quality food around Brisbane was too challenging. Regulations, site fees, and other risk factors such as weather, competition, and food preferences were detrimental to business.

In order for the Brisbane food scene to thrive and expand, Filonik wanted to explore data­-driven strategies to address such challenges and improve opportunities for street food vendors to reach the right customers.

DataChopin at Wandering Cooks

Using the DataChopin prototype, the participants were able to collectively explore questions such as:

  • What locations are available and what is happening around them?
  • What are the most consistent, profitable spots for food trucks?
  • What are potential target groups and what are their preferences?
  • How can you coordinate and synergise with other food trucks?

By making the most up-to-­date and relevant information about ongoing events in the city available at a glance, and directly involving street food vendors, participatory data analytics was able to improve business prospects and show the availability of street food in general.

“One participant expressed interest in having meteorological records in order to better understand the impact that weather had on their sales.”

Filonik said the real-world experience of actual food truck operators was extremely valuable for vetting the incorporated data sets and visualisations.

“Many were enthusiastic about the premise, thoroughly exploring the capabilities and limitations of DataChopin. For example one participant expressed interest in having meteorological records in order to better understand the impact that weather had on their sales,” Filonik says.

“Generally, participants were optimistic that such an collaborative approach would ultimately benefit the food truck community as a whole.”

Daniel Filonik presents DataChopin at the QUT Viser Lab

Dr Markus Rittenbruch, Principal PhD supervisor said DataChopin is part of the QUT Design Lab’s research focus on smart cities and urban informatics.

“The project specifically addresses the notion of ‘Smart Citizens’, which explores how everyday citizens can be supported to make use of urban data sets,” Dr Rittenbruch said.

“The use of DataChopin at Wandering Cooks showcased how participatory data visualisation can help small and medium enterprises to interpret complex data and help citizens to play an active role in shaping the city”.

The use case serves as an example of the potential benefits that can result from empowering communities to collaboratively analyse data.

“DataChopin is part of the QUT Design Lab’s research focus on smart cities and urban informatics.”

Filonik said he is grateful for the interest and feedback the team has received throughout the evaluations.

“The deployment allowed us to test assumptions made in the design of DataChopin in real-world settings, revealing potential problem sources and providing many ideas and inspiration for further improvements,” he said.

“Thereby it has brought us closer to our goal of developing real-world, participatory analytics tools that allow wider audiences to benefit from data.”

The next stages of the project include taking DataChopin from a research prototype to a commercial quality version for public use, along with exploring more diverse usage scenarios and technologies.