An Example of How I Wanted to Find Data For My Dashboard

There is always a topic with data out there waiting for its story to be told. I went on a recent road trip around New Zealand and while I was at Wellington, one thing that stood out to me was a single wind turbine sitting on top of a hill. I have heard that it was windy in Wellington and it certainly didn’t disappoint when I was there. When I got back to Melbourne, I was inspired to make a dashboard about the windy city but didn’t know what data out there existed. This blog will help others who may have felt a similar way whilst starting on their passion projects. For those reading and wish to join the Data School, this may also help you build an application dashboard on something you are passionate about. It is easy to find a story from data if it is a topic you could talk non-stop about.

These 3 tips will go through my thought process on how to find the right data and overcome the obstacles.

Tip #1 – Data Available to the Public – Someone may have already thought about your topic in the past

Depending on your topic you would need to think where you could find it. It is likely that others out there may have similar interests in your topic which may help.

The following websites allow you to search publicly available datasets that others or organisations have published:

There are more resources out there as well and collecting the data you want may not always be that straight forward.

Tip #2 – Think About What You Want to Say – How can the data support that?

For my topic on Wind Energy, it wasn’t as simple as searching those above sites so it may take some time to think it through. Initially, I wanted to compare how windy Wellington was compared to the rest of the world but wasn’t satisfied with what I found and had to rethink about the other aspects of wind in New Zealand. I ended up going back to thinking about the wind turbine at Wellington and thought about wind farms in New Zealand and where they would have been placed and is it windy around those areas. With that in mind, I researched the New Zealand wind farms and manually recorded where they were located and found out how many turbines they had and their capacity to produce energy. I also thought that there would be weather stations scattered around New Zealand where there was a possibility of wind-related data being collected and my research into weather data in New Zealand helped me find NIWA which provided the data I needed.

Some things to think about when finding the data:

  • The perfect dataset isn’t always out there – adapt and think about what other stories could be told
  • Think what are the key data components that you need – is it spatial data you need? What is reasonable to source data from?
  • It doesn’t have to be one dataset – enrich your data by combining data that complement each other
  • Make a dataset yourself – Sometimes you may see segments of data or information but not collated in the perfect format. Consider if it is worth investing time to manually construct the dataset yourself.

Tip #3 – Building on the Story – Using data to give context

Whilst researching my wind energy in NZ story, I thought that reaching out to the general public audience and jumping straight into the wind turbines might lose context as to why there are wind turbines scattered around New Zealand in the first place. To add to the story, I thought to expand the scope more to help give an idea of where New Zealand stands with total energy consumption and renewable energy production vs. the rest of the world. I found more data on New Zealand’s Energy Profile and this data helped reveal that they consumed very little energy against the top 10 countries but were among the top 10 countries in how much percent their renewable energy took up their total energy consumption. It also showed that wind energy was on the rise in New Zealand. This type of context helped tell a story from a bigger picture and the situation New Zealand was in regarding wind and why it was important to their energy consumption and production.

Here are some ideas on how you can tell a better story with data:

  • Is there missing context with the current data you have?
  • Who is the audience of the dashboard?
  • Make sure it is relevant to your topic
  • If your topic is a niche subject and you are reaching out to a wide audience, how will you bridge the gap that will get others invested in it as well?

Summary

There are others who are passionate about data out there that already might have looked at researching a topic that you were interested in as well, so utilise the existing resources where possible. If collecting the data isn’t as straightforward as initially thought, adapt whether you need to explore a different story or consider whether datasets that complement each other can tell a cohesive story. Also consider who the dashboard is for

Hopefully, these tips can help others out there who want to overcome their obstacles in finding the right data as it isn’t always a simple process which can also involve other bits that I haven’t touched on here such as data transformation but maybe it can help point you into the right direction of where you can take your passion into a insightful dashboard to share with others.

You can find my dashboard on Wind Energy in New Zealand here. Thanks for reading my blog!

Kier Bituin
Author: Kier Bituin