In June, we wrote that data can be beautiful. But we know that organizations often lack the tools to visualize data easily, and the WIRE can help.

In late September, the Smart Chicago Collaborative held a conference exploring the ways that data is put to use in Chicago. The Chicago School of Data Days conference brought together individuals in government, non-profit, and tech to discuss skills, data access, resource/skill gaps, and tools. Since then, we’ve been reflecting on ways that other organizations might benefit from some products of the event.

At the conference, it was clear that a lot of small organizations want to use data better, but don’t have the capacity for much data visualization. Sometimes this is true for us at Chicago Jobs Council. What does a small organization do if there isn’t staff or time to create an infographic that might be helpful? Sometimes even using charts and graphs internally would be a lot more helpful than looking at spreadsheets, but who has the time?

The conference itself provided some responses to these struggles. The entire weekend was richly documented in videodetailed notes, and a vibrant twitter discussion. For those looking to do more with less, two sessions you may enjoy reviewing are Data Visualization, and Mapping Data.

On the second day, members of several groups got together to talk about next steps we might take to make it easier for organizations to put data to good use. During the conference, we all learned that free tools for presenting and using data are abundant. The problem for many is figuring out where to start, and who can help with questions. We discussed compiling resources, creating a list, and sharing it. The group has plans to meet again and continue the discussion.

We wanted other organizations to know about this work, because it can help you as well! In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be thinking about how to best use the WIRE to help you not only find data, but put it to use. Please send in your feedback or questions. What tools could you use? What are your challenges? We will continue to share updates as more emerges from the conference and its attendees.

In the meantime, here are two tools that are immediately helpful.

  • Chartbuilder is the tool that journalists at Quartz use to create on-the-fly charts for breaking news stories. Just take data from a spreadsheet and paste it into the first box, titled “Input your data.” Tweak a few titles, colors, and sources, and download under the “export” heading. It’s that simple. Here’s a chart we made with Chartbuilder:Minutes-of-your-day-minutes-to-complete_chartbuilder (1)
  • Piktochart is another free, completely online tool. It is a quick and easy way to make infographics and other visuals. It’s not the most powerful or precise, and the free version comes with a limited number of themes. But it’s light, fast, and simple to use. It also has its own excellent chart creator. Here’s a graphic we put together with Piktochart:WIRE Graphic


Tell us what you think of these tools, point us towards other ones, or send us your questions. There will be more to come on the WIRE that will help you make use of your data!