May 17, 2020

The beauty of data visualisation

Visualised data helps us to detect patterns and trends, allowing us to make informed decisions.

Colleen Braganza
The beauty of data visualisation

At the core of MuchSkills is the philosophy that data must be communicated in an easily accessible way so that all of us (not just the experts) can understand it effortlessly, and also spot patterns, trends and outliers. These insights then allow us to use the data to make informed decisions.

This data visualisation philosophy was championed by the late Swedish physician, academic, and public speaker Hans Rosling.

Rosling argued that data didn’t have to be boring. He believed that when displayed in a visualised form, data could tell detailed stories about people, organisations and countries, giving its audience valuable insights that would have otherwise been lost in mind-numbing tables and charts. Rosling always wanted to make statistics fun because he knew data was valuable only if people had the inclination to understand it and process it.

If you have 4 minutes and 47 seconds to spare, here’s a really cool video in which Rosling, who died in 2017, takes us through 200 years of global development using animated data. Statistics has never been this enjoyable.

Data visualisation is not a 21st century concept though. In the 19th century, a woman who is a household name in many parts of the world saved thousands of lives because of her work in the field of statistics. Her name was Florence Nightingale.

Nightingale is widely renowned as the founder of modern nursing, but it is her lesser known work as a statistician that has arguably saved more lives than her work as a nurse.

Take a look at the table below. Nightingale collected the data for these charts while working as a nurse in a British Military Hospital in Turkey between April 1854 and March 1856, during the Crimean War.

Credit: Florence Nightingale and Hospital Reform: Collected Works of Florence Nightingale.

We can bet that most readers of this blog skipped reading this table...and we don't blame you.

Possibly anticipating that members of the British Parliament had little interest in reviewing dull data tables, Nightingale designed an attractive diagram to communicate the stunning findings of the data to them and members of the public.

Titled Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East , the diagram illustrated that the majority of British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War died of preventable diseases caused by poor sanitation (blue) than their wounds (red) or other causes (black). It also illustrated how mortality dropped in the second year of the war because of improved sanitation in hospitals (see figure on left). Published in a 1858 report, the chart is now widely known as the 'Nightingale Rose diagram'.


Both the table and graph display the same data. But only one grabs your attention, isn’t it? That's the beauty of data visualisation.

Nightingale's diagram captivated the British public too – they easily understood it, and widely reproduced and circulated it. The public uproar that followed at the news that the majority of British soldiers were dying of disease caused by unhygienic conditions spurred the British government to review sanitation standards in all Army barracks and hospitals. This step led to a reduction in the death rate of soldiers.

Even in 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic ravages the world, experts are holding up Nightingale’s work to illustrate the value of data in stopping disease.

Getting back to MuchSkills and data visualisation, as the Coronavirus crisis upturns the global economy, we hope MuchSkills – a skills and strengths visualisation tool for everyone – will help individuals, teams and organisations navigate the uncertainties of a post-Covid world better. Use MuchSkills to get a clearer picture of the skills and skill sets available to you. Sign up at muchskills.com.

Read more: How MuchSkills ­was born

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