Tuesday, April 23, 2013

VAC Views - May 2008

This document titled VAC Views (May II, 2008) written by the Visual Analytics Center and covers a wide range of topics related, but not limited to, integrating visual analytics to enhance learning.  This group previously released these documents biannually and covered many different kinds of topics related to visual analytics.

For this document I chose to highlight one particular article of interest to me and what I feel was the most relevant to this class: Active Products: Composition and Dissemination of Smart Analytic Reports.  This report states that one of the biggest problems for analysts is utilizing visualization effectively as part of the communication process with decision makers.  This clearly indicates that not all decision makers are the same.  The author breaks it down to production ("the act of composing reports"), presentation ("the outward form these reports take"), and dissemination ("how the content of these reports is shared across and organization").  The group proposes a new product they are coming out with that is a 'smart report'.  What this means is that the reports have to be made with the idea that they can be taken apart and put back together to give to anyone that may need to use them in an effective manner.  The data must be well sourced along with clearly stated operations the analyst used to acquire the data and process it as intelligence.  Confidence must be also clearly stated and updated as necessary.  Third, the reports must have some interactive capabilities such as a live visual component that engages the reader.  This can put the reader in the analyst's shoes and allow them to see how the analysts see.  Lastly, the products must be customizable to as many groups as they need to be.  Length and classification, among other categories, are examples of criteria these reports must be able to alter.

One specific tool the National Visualization and Analytics Center (NVAC) proposes is a snippet widget that allows the writer of the report to collect information at the time of research that may be in the form of evidence or other important information.  This also includes how the information was discovered.  These snippets are then combined together for the report to make a coherent argument or story.  Instead of having to retrace and reanalyze the information, this snippet widget will free up time that can be spent on organizing and refining the report.  Additionally, the reports generated from the snippet widget and the refining process can be placed into style sheets.  These style sheets allow for the document to be easily  transferred between different forms of reports including websites, analytic reports, or even blog sites.  These can also be edited by others (if the writer wishes) in order to improve the document or adjust information.  This eliminates the time spent making each document tailored to a specific person in a specific style.

I really liked reading about the articles in this edition, as well as skimming other editions.  I think a lot of the products and articles they put forth are easily understandable and make great points about how visual analytics is improving.  This article in particular really speaks to what we hope to do here at Mercyhurst University (or are at least trying to do).  It's about making a report that a decision maker wants to read and doing it in a timely manner.  I think this is an excellent idea and could really help improve the report writing and publication process of reports.  Additionally, this report briefly mentions the four criteria for creating these new reports.  The third requirement- making products interactive- really emphasizes what I feel is the future of report writing.  Decision makers are not going to just want to read a report- they are going to want to visually see how different factors are working or perhaps even receive the document in a video news bulletin form.  By having a tool that help integrate all of these specifications in a timely fashion is an excellent research endeavor to tackle.

One of the drawbacks mentioned is that there needs to be a research community established that is willing to help improve documents when requested.  I agree that this is a drawback, however, the idea of having a document that is easily convertible and accurately sourced without much additional effort is a huge value in itself.  To be able to write a report and never have to create your own presentation for it, but instead just tweak an already made report would save a lot of time.

Lastly, when I first began to read this article I figured it would focus a lot on how to make charts and figures look more appealing.  I think this is also something that needs to be worked on, however, a report that can convert itself into a different type of report while maintaining citations is bigger time saver than adding different graphs.

May II, R. (2008). VAC Views - May 2008. Retrieved from http://readthis.pnl.gov/marketsource/readthis/B3065_not_print_quality.pdf


  1. I certainly agree with you that there is a lot of overlap in what the product discussed in the article aims to do and what we at Mercyhurst similarly try to produce. I really like that the authors recognize the different actors involved in the process and the fact that the product should be interactive and able to be customized to individual end users. This seems particularly applicable in organizations with many different subgroups whose work is related but ultimately focused on different factors. A report that can be changed to address the needs of each subgroup's decision maker would be extremely useful.

  2. I think the approach in this article to ensure that the visual analytics are appropriate to the consumer is key. The article I read also highlighted this factor. I think it's possible that making the product interactive and also customized to the particular decision-maker could ultimately improve communication. This is something that we should definitely take into consideration when developing and disseminating our products.