The Data Times Investigation Pages - Open Data Engagement Fund project

April 27, 2020

Blog Post by Alana Murphy and Nicolas Perrin, Flax & Teal

The project: The Data Times (The Data Times) is a free, easy to search tool originally targeted towards community journalists to engage in cross-border, data-driven journalism, by helping users discover data subsets focused upon their region and topic.  The Data Times is also a research tool and Flax & Teal are working with academic institutes on its use for research purposes.

 

The Data Times has been developed in order to assist community journalists’ engagement with open data as an accessible platform, by enabling users to conduct topic-based and regional-based searches that can be filtered to their needs. These can be filtered by organisations, sources and format. This platform has been designed to link datasets thematically to the search topic to explore potential links between research that other platforms may not enable. The results page then displays key pieces of data from the original source, whilst also providing links to the source, other relevant topics, and auto-generated charts to help users engage with their data research. A key feature of this platform is that it guides users on how to create an infographic regarding their topic and how the data can be used to understand the surrounding context relevant to their topic. This is a viable resource for community journalists, but can also be a valuable discovery and learner tool for others such as; 

  • Academics conducting research, educators and students alike
  • Community activists and community workers
  • Charities
  • Governmental organisations 
  • Policy-makers 

 

For example, results of a simple search for health-related datasets in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

 

Why it is needed 

The Data Times was developed in order to reduce the time it takes to explore statistical research, as our core market appears to be deadline-driven and results-focused. Although a number of search engines already exist, these lack assisting the user to match topics, themes or regions and are more based on manual selection. The Data Times can also be used as a learning and development tool, providing public users with reliable resources for data-driven research and guidance on how statistics shape and contextualise wider public issues. Through the initial market research, we discovered The Data Times would be of greatest mutual benefit not only to community journalists as key users, but to community activists and non-technical journalism students, who lack required resources to understand data and create statistics. Hence why a vital component of The Data Times is that it is free to use. Other specific discoveries helped incorporate design phases, such as being able to Star or Favourite findings in order to return to at a later point in time. 

 

For example, the results page of a simple search for insurance datasets, displaying relevant resources and infographic - colour coding above indicates that blue displays relevant topics and green displays regions.

Documentation and guidance were developed to assist users with understanding the system, as both standalone pages and a pop-up text surrounding essential features.

Funding Development 

Open Data is data that can be freely used, shared and built-on by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose. This has been a massive contribution to the development of The Data Times and the funding provided by the Open Data Engagement Fund has supported us in developing Investigation Pages as a main feature in response to user feedback. To help journalists engage with open data, we built 5 pages for open data and collaborative data journalism around key editorial topics in Ireland. These are a crib-sheet for a trending topic or theme within any given state or region. Providing a vetted jumping off point for research, they aim to help journalists collaborate, by suggesting links or data, and through agreement and shared documents, as shown below.

Example of an Investigation Page regarding COVID-19. 

Investigation Pages also allow the user to interact with real-time data, which is constantly being updated from the relevant datasets. For example, this is what the user could access by clicking on the interactive graphs as shown above. 

Interactive graphs displaying COVID-19 data from the UK and Ireland, and Worldwide impacts. 

These enable the user to interact with real-time data and provide the basis for research (journalist based or other) whilst reducing the time spent searching for information, as it’s condensed into one convenient, practical and easy-to-use interactive page. These pages also allow for collaboration between local and national journalists in order to create new datasets. Furthermore, they allow secondary users to engage with journalists, such as data analysts and government officials.   

Coronavirus datasets will be added to the platform shortly. 

The Data Times is freely available to start using and anyone can access this platform. Learn more at https://thedatatimes.com

Data Sources