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What CultuurNet Vlaanderen teaches us about data visualisation

On 10 June, the peaceful gardens of TimesMore House in Brussels formed the perfect backdrop for a light lunch and pleasant debate. The purpose of the event? Gain insight in how to manage data overload through visual storytelling.


Key speaker at the afternoon event was Davy De Laeter, Research and Policy Manager at CultuurNet Vlaanderen, an organisation specialised in the communication and marketing of culture and leisure activities. In his testimonial, Dave offered valuable insights in how his organisation deals with the enormous amounts of data from cultural events across the whole of Flanders.

Managing a wealth of information

The numbers are impressive indeed: CultuurNet Vlaanderen receives data from 21,849 organisers, covering 174,044 events. A large proportion of this data is generated through the culture passes used under the UiTPas savings and benefits programme. To adequately manage this wealth of information, CultuurNet creates simple visual dashboards that are also used by the organisers of the events. It allows them to easily find information about the people attending the events and when they arrived. For events that cover an entire city, the visual dashboards also show which parts of the city attracted the highest number of visitors, and where these visitors came from.

While this may sound easy and straightforward, CultuurNet Vlaanderen had to conduct numerous internal stakeholder meetings (what data do we need, who will be using it and for what purposes?) and complete a steep learning curve in terms of programming skills to get to this point. And all this on a limited budget! They have certainly come a long way on this impressive journey on which many private organisations are yet to embark.

Focus on the issue at hand

The next speaker was our own Nicole, who explained how to choose and tell engaging stories through the motto “Clear, Simple, Visually Attractive”. Challenging the audience, she asked attendees to select the right chart to convey a certain message, and how this chart could be further simplified and made more appealing.

“One of the most important conclusions is that you should always focus on the business issue at hand and present relevant data to address this issue”, Nicole explains. “Knowing your audience is the second most important thing. Do they need a straightforward story with only key figures? Or should you go into more detail?”

Data at your fingertips

Another topic discussed during the event was the explosion in online dashboard software applications, such as Tableau, Qlikview and Power BI, which make our lives easier by providing us with data at our fingertips. However, they all forget to mention one important element: before creating a chart, you need to think about the story you want to convey and how to best present your story visually. Those tools won’t do the thinking for you.

Missed out on our lunch events on visual storytelling in London and Brussels? Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming events in the near future!



by Leen Borgers,
Data Science Director
on 15-07-2016

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