Monday, August 28, 2006

Timeline Collaboration Principles

The initial starting belief of this Change Over Time blog is that if you want to change the world, the best approach is to build better tools and then learn how to harness their power.

Peter Drucker tells us that FOCUS is the key to success and we follow his advice with a focus on timelines and trend data that tracks the areas of our lives that are most important to us. A key to unlocking the meaning of these data is a continuing search for the tools and methods and principles that best help us analyze, visualize, report and discuss our findings. We are on the lookout for tools that simplify, clarify, and especially those that save us time as we share our findings and collaborate with expert and non-expert alike. We wish to discover what the data means for us in our lives and what actional steps we might take for making the world a better place.

Why do we focus on trends and timelines?

First: Timeline data is often widely available for a substantical collection of key measures in every area of human interest. We are simply overflowing with such data. Where it is not available, it appears almost always possible to create a new data collector that will gather the missing metrics.

Second: Our observation is that most of the time, the available data is not put to its best use as key principles that would guarantee success are openly violated. Lots of opportunity appears within easy reach.

Third: In one domain after another, we have been establishing and documenting proof that substantial improvements in how we use trend data are already available or well within our reach by following a straightforward set of rules and principles and we can point to a growing number of examples on the web that show these approaches in action.

Fourth: In some cases, the existing work makes collaboration (especially between expert and non-expert) somewhat easier, but the collaboration aspect of making best use of trend data does not seem to have been actively explored. I believe that a handful of principles and standard practices can help us learn how to collaborate better by at least an order of magnitude. As we do so, we will advance towards having better and better control for shaping the future and achieving our fondest dreams.

Limited examples of how to use trend data more powerfully are popping up on the web. One of our goals on this blog is to find these examples of excellent practice. We want to use these best practices as models for what is possible if the underlying principles were applied to other domains and trend data collections. For example, we gave some examples drawn from the St Louis Federal Reserve Bank's interactive trending capabilitites named FRED. Other examples can be found at The Big Picture , the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Justice Statistics , and Professor Pollkatz .

Here are the TimeLine Collaboration Principles that I believe are going to prove most important to the goal of this blog of making the best use of trend data. We have already discussed some of these in previous posts and will be preparing additional posts for these principles to explain the logic behind them in greater detail.

1. Share the data series with the chart. Make sure it is readily reausable
2. Multi-dimensionality is key
3. Data set includes entire time range even if chart doesn't
4. Explain how calculated quantities were obtained
5. Make sure the explanatory text is in close physical proximity to the trend chart
6. Data + Charts + Text creates a full package that encourages further conversation
7. Ask the expert in the subject matter domain: What are the most important factors?
8. Then, make sure you measure and record and create a timeline history of every one of these
9. If you have the most important factors, you'll find charts with but a single variable still tell a powerful story
10. Make sure the Axes and Titles and other text graphics are easily readable

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