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An Open Data Platform for Vital Strategies - a global public health organization

4 mins read

Key facts

Service providers:
Datopian

Client:
Vital Strategies

Services:
Data Engineering, CKAN Development, CKAN Features, CKAN Consultancy, CKAN Hosting & Support

Period:
November 2017 - present

Work we've done:
Vital Strategies Platform

Brief summary of the project

The project offers a compelling case for how open data portals can provide easy access to data-driven insights, helping organizations to advance public health policies and practices worldwide.

Exclamation mark pointing the problem
Problem

Vital Strategies had a challenge to solve - how to provide easy access to complex public health data that is often difficult to navigate and visualize. The lack of accessibility to large quantities of public health data is a significant challenge, leading to more time spent searching for data than analyzing it. This hinders the efforts of organizations like Vital Strategies, which require data-driven insights to advance public health policies and practices.

Interrogation mark pointing the need
Need

Vital Strategies wanted to provide an easy-to-use platform that could offer users high-quality, visually-appealing data-driven insights. With the goal of improving data accessibility and reducing the time spent searching for information, Vital Strategies sought a solution that could not only meet their requirements but also be scalable and easily customizable.

Checkmark pointing the solution
Solution

The custom open data portal developed by Datopian provides an easy-to-use solution for accessing and visualizing complex public health data. By customizing the default CKAN UI, we created visually-rich dashboards and easy-to-use Query Tools with multiple forms of visualizations. Popular libraries like Plotly, Leaflet, and DataTables were used to create interactive and customizable data visualizations. With a clean and organized interface, the portal makes sharing public health data visually easy and enjoyable for both admins and public users.

Main technologies & tools used

CKAN
Datatables
JavaScript
Python
Postgre
Redis
Solr
Plotly
Leaflet

Context

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Vital Strategies is an international nonprofit that assists governments by designing easily scalable solutions to address the many challenges found in—and around—public health. These public health systems can cover a wide range of areas related to health. From food safety regulations, to handling the data that leads to creating those regulations and policies. Their main mission is to:

work in partnership to reimagine evidence-based, locally driven policies and practices to advance public health.

They work with governments all over the world, with offices in:

  • New York, United States
  • Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • Paris, France
  • Jinan, China
  • São Paulo, Brazil
  • New Delhi, India
  • Singapore

The situation

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The purpose of this project was to build a portal with the tools to help users easily access and visualize public health data. A common problem with large quantities of data is often a lack of accessibility. This project was born out of the need to improve that, and to allow the public, researchers, and government officials to focus more on their own work and goals (and less time on searching for—and visualizing—data).

The criteria

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The criteria for this project were clear, minimal, and focused. The two main requirements were:

  • compelling, visually-rich dashboards presenting data-driven insights on broad topics
  • easy-to-navigate Query Tools to quickly answer questions with data, using multiple forms of visualizations

The solution

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To improve navigation and improve accessibility, customizations were implemented to override the default CKAN UI. The home page is now minimal and focused for both admins and public users, only displaying the groups found on the portal:

Vital Strategies portal

CKAN groups are used to organize Query Tools. Navigating to a group will result in the list of relevant Tools:

Group page

Finally, once a Tool is selected, its visualization dashboard is shown:

Visualization 1

Visualization 2

Visualization 3

To handle the creation of visualizations and their dashboards, a few different (JS) libraries were used. In very early versions, D3 was used for rendering bar, line, and pie charts, but Plotly proved to fit the demands of the project much better. For maps, Leaflet was used, and DataTables handles tables.

There are a wide range of chart types. Admins can choose from bar, horizontal bar, stacked bar, stacked horizontal bar, line, area, scatter, spline, donut, and pie. As previously mentioned, maps and tables are also available. For each of these visualizations, multiple customization options were implemented in the UI.

On top of all of that, the project continues to evolve and improve, always striving to make the experience better for data consumers.

The outcome

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The current iteration of this project makes it easy to share public health data visually. It offers a comprehensive list of options to clearly highlight the most important aspects of data. With clean and organized visualization dashboards, the experience as a public user is just as pleasurable as that of an admin.

What’s next?

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For now, there’s no end in sight. Organizations continue to discover and choose this project. With a growing user base, there is no shortage of new features and improvements. The experience is consistently decreasing the time spent on achieving goals for both the admins creating the visualizations and the public users consuming them.

We are the CKAN experts.

Datopian are the co-creators, co-stewards, and one of the main developers of CKAN. We design, develop and scale CKAN solutions for everyone from government to the Fortune 500. We also monitor client use cases for data to ensure that CKAN is responding to genuine challenges faced by real organizations.

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