Visualization and Human Connection as Tools to Build a Better Community

Growing up, we participate in certain activities to help us build towards our own futures. For example, when asked what we want to be when we grow up, we use the information we are able to collect and our imaginations to visualize our future careers and lives. When learning how to interact with other people, many of our mentors and role models probably presented some version of the popular “treat others as you would like to be treated.” But what if we began to use these tools for something more than personal future planning? What if we began to use these tools to help build a greater community? Through the accessible presentation of community data, through individuals taking the time to consider the well-being of other members of the community, and through the presence of inclusive third-places we may be able to direct the skills we honed for personal development towards community development. Visualizing Data

An important step in visualizing community change is being able to visualize the current state of your community as well as the potential state of your community given certain changes. This can be made possible with community data, such as data measuring the employment rate, graduation rates, rates of homelessness, and the number of empty single family homes in a community. Such data can tell us a story about how we may better improve our community for all of its members.

In his TED talk, David McCandless discusses the power of being able to visualize data, or create visual information, “so that we can see the patterns and connections that matter and then designing that information so it makes more sense, or tells a story, or allows us to focus only on the information that’s important.” For example, understanding financial figures that may reach beyond our full comprehension (such as billions of dollars) are better presented with figures that present relativity. As well, visual information is more accessible to everyone and would reduce the feeling of data overload.

To check out some visual presentations of Sarasota County’s community data, keep an eye out for SCOPE’s Community Report Card!

Another example of a way to visualize community data is through mapping. In an episode of Geospatial Revolution, members of the project “Map Kibera” presents one way in which mapping can help build a better community—by creating a visual presentation of the community data so the information is accessible to the people of the community. This project exposed opportunities to locate the community of Kibera’s resources, as well as opportunities to better utilize their resources.  The mapping project was started to help guide “a proper discussion about the future of Kibera.” For example, young girls shared places that are not safe to walk on the map. After these points were added to the map, police posts were placed in those areas. This creation of visual information helped people visualize what they can to do improve their community.

Sarasota County Green Map is an interactive, collaborative map that presents a visual of resources people may utilize in order to help create a more sustainable community. For example, you can find where local produce is accessible. The development of this map allows people to locate resources and potentially recognize what needs to be utilized more or what could be added to Sarasota County to make it a greener county.

Visualizing the Lives of Others

Outside of data, another way of visualizing your ideal community is through reflecting on how you would want your community to be designed if you were able to design your community before you joined it and you had no idea what your place in your community would be. Concepts such as the “Veil of Ignorance,” as found in John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, challenges people to consider what they would define as justice given that they were unaware of the barriers or privileges they had in life. Imagining a situation in which you did not know what privileges or barriers you’re faced with, what would you consider to be your ideal, just community?

Connecting in a Third-Place

While community data is a strong tool that can be used to enact great change, we have to remember that quantitative data does not tell the full story of the human experience. As well, we may be missing key information that impacts our ability to fully picture the lives of others. Thus, in order to better understand the other members of our community, we must learn more about our neighbors. One way to increase human interaction in a community is through the development of inclusive third-places. Third-place is the place that is neither work nor home, but another place where people can meet and spend time together. Opportunities to engage each other in conversation will allow people to understand what the community needs beyond what quantitative data can tell us on its own. As well, it provides opportunities for people to brainstorm ideas concerning how to approach the future.

So, using information you gain from community data and human connections, what do you want our community to look like as we move into the future?