No startling technical advances here, just new things for our team and the speed with which we did it! Our team has been busily publishing updates about the government response to the floods in Pakistan. Most information follows our usual model: news items, case studies of the impact of aid on individuals, photo galleries, and short video clips when we have them. This is all brought together via a single rolling news page.

Last week someone had an idea that we should create a page which helped people to visualise the situation. As it is extremely difficult to get frequent updates from the team based in Pakistan, we knew we would have to work with the information we had, so gathered together a selection of maps and factsheets (all material that was already published, just scattered and in different formats.

We would have liked to use wordpress – the platform we now use for all sorts of interaction such as the DFID bloggers and a range of consultations. However, for various reasons this wasn’t possible, so we needed to work with the templates we use for the main site. This was rapid development in action – different ideas were drafted, many discarded, then screenshots created of possible solutions which were passed around for approval.

We decided to use the visualisations available via the IBM platform Many Eyes. This is a beta site, and we had never played around with it, and certainly never embedded this sort of material onto the site, but we have been impressed by the sort of charts and diagrams it produces, so wanted to give it a go. Three data sets were created (and this was far from a simple exercise, as the information was in a range of format, little used the same units of measurements: tons of aid, or units eg numbers of tents, or amount of funds given to different organisations), and a series of tabs set up so people could click between them.

For the second part of the page, we embedded first a static map. It is the simplest way to show the scale of the flooding – although we were also hugely impressed by some work the BBC have done which overlays map data onto something the viewer is familiar with. Take a look at their Dimensions site.

We also created a map which displays the sets of images we have published via flickr.  Neat, but we can’t really geotag them precisely, so that is definitely more for illustration than a definite record of precise locations.

A frenetic period of work, and there is still lots to be done as we work out processes for obtaining updates to the information. However, it is satisfying to be able to produce something completely new for our site in less than a day and a half. If you are interested, visit the Pakistanfloodsmonitor

gif of DFID web page: Pakistan floods monitor

DFID: Pakistan floods monitor

UPDATE: unfortunately, the Many Eyes site which we used to create the bubble charts has been unavailable for the last couple of days, so we had to come up with an alternative. Thanks to an intensive afternoon and evening’s work, the Floods Monitor page now has a new set of graphics, created using google docs. Not as colourful, but clear and crisp looking – and hopefully more stable. Now to turn our attention back to wider publication of the underlying data sets we used to create them – now that good links have been established with our colleagues on the ground who are providing regular updates.