Diversity Explorer is a BRC project focused on exploring the ways that large public datasets can serve as the basis for dynamic visualizations of several indices of diversity in contemporary Boston. In addition to bringing experimental and creative methods of data visualization to the BRC, this project also seeks to demonstrate meaningful ways of representing large datasets for students, researchers, and the general public. Diversity Explorer shows data about the diversity of Boston at the household level.
Using anonymized samples from the 2016 American Community Survey, the project team worked over the summer and fall of 2018 on processing and organizing the data to develop household-level visualizations for three specific measures of diversity: race, languages spoken, and birthplace. Initial steps in the data processing include narrowing the national dataset to extract Boston city data, defined as Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Charlestown, East Boston, and the Central and South areas of the city. Additional variables were also removed from this revised dataset to focus only on relevant information. Finally, a 1% sample of the anonymized dataset was ultimately used for this prototype.
The data also required reformatting, and the mapping of opaque code formatting into human-readable data. Categories were analyzed by researchers and consolidated into overarching categories as appropriate. This process of consolidation and aggregation allowed the project team to carefully consider the relationships between different categories within the original dataset, making transparent the decisions of the project team in this process. This process was crucial in identifying the challenges and opportunities of working with large, fine-grained datasets. The project team focused less on mapping the census data to the geographic spaces of Boston, choosing instead to develop means of visualization that utilize metaphor to interpret that data in a meaningful and accessible manner.
Diversity Explorer has already developed several processes for managing and formatting large datasets that will inform future projects (see the Boston 911 data project). In the expanded BRC, Diversity Explorer can provide a model for the exploration of Boston populations, households, and human movement, and help support the development of tools for community self-understanding and self-exploration.