All posts by Kevin McAvey

APDU Vice President: A (Data) Visualized World

Data means nothing without context, and nothing provides context like a picture.  The artful science of data visualization, the ability to use graphics to abstract and convey meaning from data, is among the most important and ill-equipped skills in our Data Age.  Across industries and occupations, public and private sectors, the need to deliver complex information simply and succinctly is pervasive.  I witness it daily in health care.

Insurers, founded on long histories of using data to monitor costs and forecast risks, are investing in new, proactive data strategies that incorporate the use of data visualizations as early as data intake:  programmers using visuals to test the integrity, consistency, and completeness of daily claim-file uploads, allowing them to spot outliers, anomalies, and irregular patterns across billions of flowing records immediately.  Hospital system clinicians and data scientists alike – now tasked with managing the health outcomes of whole populations – are developing new patient-specific indicators to track health and well-being, provider maps to monitor care coordination and referral patterns, and population dashboards to gauge progress on meeting clinical, quality, and financial performance goals.  States and researchers, tremendous data collectors and users – tapping data derived from surveys, discharge databases, and All Payer Claims Databases – are then tasked with distilling down an entire system to what policy-makers and the public most need to know to make more informed health care decisions.

While these examples illustrate the rapid application of data visualizations in health care, their use transcends policy domains.  The Association of Public Data Users (APDU) continues to recognize those who demonstrate the impact data visualizations can have on our discourse.  For the second year, APDU is proud to recognize the country’s top data visualizations that leverage our nation’s wealth of publicly-available data to convey a compelling point or story.  In our second annual “Data Viz” awards, APDU has selected best-in-class data visualizations by a state or local government agency, by a federal government agency, by a private enterprise, and by a researcher or student, each of whom had different audiences and goals, but all of whom recognized the impact data visualizations could have to reach them.  This year’s winners – listed below – will be joining us at our 2017 Annual Conference in Arlington, Virginia, sharing their techniques and strategies.  Join us to learn about these creative visualizations and for another exciting conference.

The 2017 Annual APDU Conference will also host a panel on “Innovations in Data Visualization”, featuring best practices and applications, and examples of how experts have used visualizations to improve their programs, solve critical issues, and powerfully convey meaningful information.  We hope you will join us in Arlington, VA, September 13th and 14th, for our ongoing discussion of Communicating Data in an otherwise noisy world.


Federal Government Category

USPTO PatentsView – US Patent and Trademark Office

  • Amanda Myers, US Patent and Trademark Office
  • Dino Citraro, Periscopic
  • Kim Rees, Periscopic

Energy Consumption and Production in Agriculture – USDA Economic Research Service

  • Claudia Hitaj, USDA Economic Research Service
  • Lori Fields, USDA Economic Research Service

Private Firms Category

Visualizing the Condition of U.S. Lakes – Crow Insight

  • Mike Crow, Crow Insight
  • Sarah Lehmann, US Environmental Protection Agency
  • Amina Pollard, US Environmental Protection Agency

Researchers and Students Category

Mapping Financial Opportunity – Institute for Policy & Social Research, University of Kansas

  • Terri Friedline, Institute for Policy & Social Research, University of Kansas
  • Xan Wedel, Institute for Policy & Social Research, University of Kansas
  • Kirk Jackson, New America
  • Justin King, New America

State and Local Government Category

2010-2014 Women in the Workforce – Utah Department of Workforce Services

  • Lecia Parks Langston, Utah Department of Workforce Services

APDU Conference Chair: 8 Tough Questions for Data Owners

Kevin McAvey is Associate Director of Analytics for Massachusetts’ Center for Health Information and Analysis and the 2016 APDU Conference Chair

We can do better. It is what I remind myself each day. As we navigate through this Data Age, as data producers, stewards, and users, where there are rarely precedents or limits or boundaries on the impact we can have, we can do better, we should do better, and we need to bring others along with us.

As my career has shifted from economic development to program evaluation to health care data, APDU has been a constant asset in my work. APDU’s cross-industry, data-focused programming has made me a more knowledgeable user of our nation’s public datasets; has challenged my approaches to data collection, analysis, and dissemination; and has, each year, given me the opportunity to gather with some of the brightest minds in our field to reflect on our collective successes and failures, and to prepare for our shared opportunities and challenges ahead.

My organization, the Center for Health Information and Analysis – or CHIA – was founded in 2012 with the goal of using data to better inform the health care marketplace in Massachusetts. Armed with over a dozen data sources – all of which are made (at least in part) publicly available – including the Massachusetts All Payer Claims Database, unprecedented for its size and scope, a live repository of billions health service records, we set forth to pursue these ends, and like many of you, did so without a roadmap or guide.

Our progress in Massachusetts has been substantial, but not without challenges. We are continually faced with tough choices and questions:
• Who is using our data, our reports, and our products? How are they using them? How can we engage our users to better understand their needs and adjust our work accordingly?
• With data that could potentially reveal so much, where do we best invest our energy and resources?
• How can we effectively leverage existing public data sources to place our results in context, best frame our results for action?
• How do we demonstrate the value of our work, a public good, to justify our budget? To justify our existence, in a world increasingly suspect of “data”?
• When is the right time, where are the right opportunities for partnerships, both within government and with the private sector?
• What is the right balance between data timeliness and accuracy? Between data detail & privacy and data usefulness?
• What is our responsibility to ensure that not only the well-funded get access to data?
• How do we support the release of public data – our data – to best inform better decision-making?

Never before have we had access to so much data – so much information – about our world: how it functions, how it responds, what it is. It is an exhilarating, and humbling, and scary responsibility. We can empower change, but, while change for many may be welcome, eagerly invited, for some it may be viewed with skepticism, disdain, and even resistance.

The responsibility to use data for good is ours, the challenge is ours, and opportunity is ours, and we can continue to do better. I look forward to talking about how with you. Join me this September at the 2016 Association of Public Data Users’ Annual Conference in Alexandria, Virginia, “Using Public Data to Inform Better Decision Making.”