Data Visualization Initiative

In 2016 the NEB launched the Data Visualization Initiative to face the challenge of producing usable and useful data to go beyond using new technologies to deliver better service to citizens. It created multiple products from the same information to expand public participation in the energy dialogue and enable evidence-based decision-making. These products include interactive data visualizations and other materials, such as high school lesson plans, as a new way to engage experts and nonexperts.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The NEB collects, uses, and shares data since its inception. The organization has a long publishing history, yet, despite great public interest on energy and pipeline stories, its reports and data tended to reach a limited expert group. Providing meaningful information to a broad audience of experts and nonexperts requires an innovative approach, especially in an era of instant information.

To pilot a new way to share data, the NEB created the Explore Canada’s Energy Future visualization. This was a curated dataset from the NEB’s premier publication Canada’s Energy Future. This publication started in 1967 and evolved with the advance of technology – from paper publication, to mini disks, to downloadable PDF supplement and Excel spreadsheets, to an online publication and database. 2018 usage analytics shows that, in contrast to the 80,000 pageviews the online report commanded, the interactive visualization received 130,000 pageviews.

Figure 1 (section 7.1) plots the Canada’s Energy Future report’s various versions in 2018 against users’ data skills and format preference, based on usage data (we assumed that usage reveals behaviour patterns). We equate the use of the online database with good data skills, and we assume that those who explore the data visualization may be less skilled with data. People who read the report prefer information packaged (curated), and those who explore the data visualization are comfortable with a less scripted experience. It also seems that those who explore the data visualization acquire new skills in the process and download the curated data.

From the numbers of PDF and HTML downloads or pageviews of the report we might conclude that some people prefer to have the context and meaning of the data explained. From the more than 20,000 pageviews of the online appendices (database), we might conclude that there are other users who are highly knowledgeable in the energy and data sectors. But the success of the data visualization shows that giving people tools to explore data and draw their own conclusions has empowered a new group of people to engage in the energy dialogue. That is the essence of data visualization.

Inspired by the success of the pilot, the NEB established a three-year Data Visualization Initiative (DVI),that will wrap up in November 2019. The main objectives were to: (1) facilitate public engagement; (2) increase public confidence; and (3) advance internal operational efficiency. To achieve these objectives, the NEB partnered with a design team from one of Canada’s leading data visualization research labs, the iLab at the University of Calgary, a computer coding startup, Vizworx, and a leading data innovation expert, Annette Hester from TheHesterView. The experience of exploring different datasets and creating interactive visualizations, data warehouses, web services, and coding the analytics to deliver useful metrics that explain how users are navigating through the visualizations is being documented to facilitate future work. So far two other visualizations were created, Pipeline Incidents and Imports & Exports of Energy to and from Canada. Before the end of the DVI, two more visualizations will be published. Note that all the data and source codes for the visualizations are published in the Government of Canada Open Government Portal.

As the DVI unfolded, we anticipated spectacular data visualizations as deliverables, but we also discovered some unexpected side benefits: (1) data discovery leads to clean and structured data by default; (2) subject matter experts change their perspective when they collaborate with designers, coders, data scientists and communicators in a creative process; and (3) people that work with a dataset day in and day out have new insights when they see these datasets differently, such as in a data vizualization. These side benefits turned out to be the most valuable learnings. The NEB is now moving to treat data as an asset; DVI has opened the doors for future mandates and created a new data and information management business unit led by a data scientist as the vice president. In addition to continuing with innovation in visual representation, the new unit ties management, analysis and public release of data and information together.

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  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
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