As a teacher, I want to spread the gospel of data visualization far and wide, but I only in ways that I can do it well. It’s tempting to have my books translated into other languages, but if I don’t understand them, I can’t confirm the quality of the work, so I refrain. My data visualization courses could reach more people if I produced electronic versions of them, but I haven’t found a way to create rich learning experiences without interacting with my students directly, so I continue looking for new ways to bend technology and instructional methods to my needs. I could also extend my reach by allowing others to teach my courses, but to do so I would need to supervise their work, which is not how I want to spend my time. Anyone with a teaching mission faces this challenge.
Another way to reach more people with the content of my work, which I’ve enthusiastically embraced, involves collaboration with like-minded individuals in a way that requires no supervision, because there is a clear separation between their work and mine. I teach fundamental principles and practices in a generic manner so they can be applied by organizations of all types—businesses, schools, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. I try to make the concepts as easy to understand and broadly applicable as possible. It is often useful, however, to tailor these concepts for particular audiences, addressing their particular needs using data and examples that are relevant to them. If I were to do this myself, I’d have little time left to build the broader foundation of principles, practices, and skills that are so desperately needed. The truth is, others can adapt my work to meet the needs of specific audiences much better than I ever could, because they already know these specialized audiences well.
This vision is now being realized in the healthcare sector, thanks to the work of my friend and colleague, Katherine Rowell. I first met Kathy when she invited me to do some internal teaching and consulting for the healthcare data company QC Metrix, where she worked at the time. Since then, she has become a powerful advocate for the use of data visualization to improve the quality of healthcare, based on the greater insights and improved outcomes that good visual sensemaking and presentation practices can provide. Her specialized data visualization services are now being offered through Katherine S. Rowell & Associates.
Using my three books as the conceptual foundation of her work, she’s developing her own healthcare-specific versions of my courses. If you’re involved in healthcare, I encourage you to review her website and see what’s she’s doing. Perhaps sign up for her free newsletter while you’re at it. I found her most recent newsletter article, “Data Visualization Double Take,” about a misleading chart related to the importance of mammograms, interesting and insightful.
When I was invited by the World Health Organization (WHO) to teach and advise them next May, I asked Kathy if she’d join me for that week in Geneva. Even though I usually work alone, this is the kind of collaboration that excites me, because I know it will produce a better outcome for this important organization than I could ever produce on my own.
What Kathy Rowell in doing for healthcare, others could do elsewhere. For instance, I would warmly welcome someone with expertise in the visual analysis and presentation of education data who wanted to develop specialized data visualization services for educators. Helping particular audiences discover and apply the power of data visualization is fertile ground for exciting and meaningful work.