Mission-driven data visualization example: ForeignAssistance.gov


Mission-driven data visualization

Data visualization does not always have to come in the form of a dashboard. Key performance indicators certainly have their place, but agencies at all levels of government are making data visualization an integral tool for a growing array critical missions. Just look, for example, at the nine use cases below:

Binary Fission


The mission: Finding flaws in software is tedious and usually requires coding expertise that is in extremely short supply. Binary Fission is a game that puts a fun front end on the critical task of identifying loop invariants that could create vulnerabilities in critical applications.

The tech: Binary Fission encourages players to sort colored “quarks” in as few steps as possible. The quarks represent values of variables inside the software while the sorting filters represent the potential invariants to be explored and applied. Players’ actions are translated into program annotations that help experts generate mathematical proofs to verify the absence of important classes of flaws in software written in the C and Java programming languages. SRI International developed Binary Fission in partnership with the University of California, Santa Cruz; the Air Force Research Laboratory; and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Learn more: https://binaryfission.verigames.com


MapIT Minneapolis


The mission: Minneapolis has gone all in with GIS-supported citizen services. Since a citywide mapping portal launched in 2012, hundreds of employees have stepped out of departmental silos to create shared tools that help manage snow emergencies, identify buildings that are suitable for solar energy and even alert citizens to dangerous dogs in their neighborhoods.

The tech: MapIT Minneapolis is built on Esri’s ArcGIS Online platform. It allows city departments to easily share data and applications when they’re ready and work privately when required.

Learn more: http://cityoflakes.maps.arcgis.com/home


HealthIT.gov’s EHR dashboards


The mission: Encouraging the shift to electronic health records has been a key Obama administration priority, and these sets of metrics help the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services monitor progress on the “meaningful use” of EHRs by vendor, program year and state.

The tech: The dashboards use JavaScript to render visualizations and the user interface. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT built the system using RStudio’s Shiny open-source statistical software. It renders graphics on the fly then allows users to save an image as a file or render it again as variables are adjusted.

Learn more: http://dashboard.healthit.gov


Commonwealth Connect


The mission: Like many of its counterparts at the state and local level, Massachusetts is seeking to improve citizen services with an online 311 system. This map helps monitor use of the service, which was launched in 59 towns and cities over the past four year.

The tech: Commonwealth Connect is powered by the SeeClickFix Web tool for reporting non-emergency issues. The data from that system is presented using CartoDB, an open-source tool for storing and visualizing geospatial data on the Web.

Learn more: http://www.mass.gov/opendata



The mission: Customs and Border Protection increasingly uses sensors and other technology to monitor America’s borders and ports of entry. As the data feeds multiply, situational awareness becomes ever more important.

The tech: The Enterprise Geospatial Information Services (eGIS) system is centrally managed and available agencywide. Powered by a SQL Server 2005 geospatially enabled database and Esri ArcSDE software, the system maps patrols, local weather and suspicious border activity, all in real time. The eGIS system also displays border enforcement data that has been imported from various transactional systems, but that data is not housed in the eGIS database.

Learn more: https://catalog.data.gov/dataset/enterprise-geospatial-information-services




The mission: Public diplomacy is critical to the operations of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The two agencies created this beta site in consultation with the National Security Council to better explain U.S. foreign assistance investments around the world.

The tech: The beta version debuted earlier this year, after State’s Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources created “personas” for the sites’ likely users and followed an agile development path to create iterations toward the current design. ForeignAssistance.gov is hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform and offers easy downloads for the various datasets. A developer application programming interface is in the works.

Learn more: http://beta.foreignassistance.gov


Colorado Inter-State Migration


The mission: Migration to and from Colorado has swung drastically in the past 15 years, and accurate projections are crucial for forecasting demand for state and local facilities and services.

The tech: The Colorado State Demography Office visualizes data drawn from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to track moves into and out of the state. Built with D3.js, a JavaScript library for mapping and charting data, the migration map uses a probability matrix to show who’s moving where and when.

Learn more: http://dola.colorado.gov


Predicting instability


The mission: Everything is easier with a bit of advance warning, and so the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency goes to great lengths to identify global hot spots before they heat up.

The tech: Leidos’ Global Monitoring and Planning System mines millions of open-source data points and applies machine learning to forecast instability years in advance. The system uses more than 65,000 location-specific instability metrics.

Learn more: https://www.leidos.com/sites/default/files/GLIMPS_web.pdf




The mission: The Agriculture Department has spent the past three years moving to a shared hiring and human resources platform while also working to improve component agencies’ recruiting and management of employees. Reports like this one allow USDA’s chief human capital officer, seven mission-area HR directors and their teams to track the department’s progress. (The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has created a similar system.)

The tech: NGA.net’s eRecruit — a cloud-based, software-as-a-service solution — tracks both workforce-wide demographics and individual applicants’ progress through the hiring process. It also integrates with EODonline, the onboarding software provided by the Commerce Department’s National Technical Information Service, and other HR systems.


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