Harvey P. Weingarten – The power of data visualization and personal stories

Last week, we published an interactive infographic showing the relationship between programs of study and jobs.  The infographic showed what many people know — that specific programs of study may lead to many different types of jobs. For example, the infographic shows that 25% of graduates from the humanities work in business, finance and administration and 16% of architecture and engineering graduates have management jobs.

One of our readers wrote us to say that “this was the coolest graphic” she ever saw.  We received many comments like this.  A particularly telling comment came from someone in government who was working on policy development related to higher education and labour outcomes. She told us that she finally got what people had been saying about the varied educational pathways that lead to different jobs.

Why did the policy nerds who read our pieces find this infographic so cool and compelling?  In our opinion, and that of others who presented similar views, it summarized a large, complicated data base in an accessible way and made the conclusion so visually obvious that words were unnecessary (although we helpfully provided a few anyway).

This episode reinforces the importance of communication in influencing people’s opinion and policy development.  The interactive data visualization tools and infographics now available provide a powerful vehicle for conveying evidence-based ideas and policy advice.  Increasingly, you’re seeing us use these techniques at HEQCO.  You can expect more.

The personal story behind how this particular infographic came about reinforces its central message and how the world of higher education is changing.  The graphic was produced by Carrie Smith, one of our researchers who has a Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Toronto and worked for several years as an engineer at an aeronautics firm.  We chanced upon her when we were looking for someone who could clean up one of the research reports we had commissioned.  Carrie did such an impressive job that we hired her.  She was instrumental in the design of the web-based tool we provided with our Canadian Postsecondary Performance: Impact 2015 report that allowed readers to customize the report card with the specific performance indicators of interest to them.  Our current infographic that uses data from the Canadian National Household Survey to show the link between postsecondary credentials and jobs was her last contribution to HEQCO’s foray into data visualization.

Regrettably, this creative policy person (who never took a policy or political science course in her life) recently left HEQCO to attend the Recurse Center, a three-month writer’s retreat for programmers, to hone her programming and visualization skills. The program is in Manhattan. She pays no tuition and was awarded a grant for living expenses to attend. Attendees of the program, which is completely unstructured, and has no set curriculum, are able to work on whatever projects they like. Most people who attend the program end up spending their time pair-programming with the other people in their cohort, and deepening their knowledge of programming. For attendees planning to enter the job market, the Recurse Center guides them through the interview process with the partner companies that sponsor and underwrite the school, which include several companies in Canada. Couldn’t ask for a better example of competency and skill-based experiential education. Let’s hope we make opportunities to recruit people like Carrie back to Canada.

Thanks for reading.

Harvey P. Weingarten is HEQCO’s president and CEO.

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