To access the full article, download the PDF on the left-hand sidebar.
In the latest installment of the other words, State must literally see State Department’s Tech@State conference series, nearly 300 people from a range of technology and foreign affairs fields converged at the Kennedy Center on Sept. 22 and 23, 2011, for a discussion of how information relevant to foreign affairs may best be portrayed visually. Organized by the State Department’s Office of eDiplomacy, the event brought together visualization technologists, social scientists, representatives of nongovernmental organizations and foreign affairs professionals.
Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of State for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, who holds a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, opened the conference by telling the audience this:
“From the perspective of a scientist, it is important to be able to present data and findings to public audiences and to our peers. Pictures and charts are, of course, a big help in this. Data visualization is something more [that] is being used effectively in so many arenas already.
“It is being used in disaster response and coordination, strengthening the ability of communities to respond. It is helping information become more transparent and accessible to society in general. It is allowing donors to see how their money is being used in projects ranging from disaster relief to climate change. Data visualization shows progress being made, bumps along the road and pledges being fulfilled.”
To meet the challenge of using data visualization to achieve greater effectiveness in diplomatic work, here are two important questions for the State Department to consider: How do we evolve beyond text-only formats, to be able to see the world in increasingly rich and vivid detail? And how can policymakers process enormous quantities of data in meaningful ways to better inform policy decisions?
Published in Foreign Service Journal.