I left the meeting thinking about the difficulties in on-line visualization of complex problems. David’s group generates large 3×5 foot posters showing the linkages and inter-relationships in public policy frameworks surrounding government and business ecosystems, such as the Canadian Federal Science and Technology Innovation ecosystem. These ecosystem maps are depictions of organizations, people, policies, regulations, laws, risks and activities that are national in scope. The paper is big and the print is small but the map still manages to get the information across.
Projected on a computer screen, however, the maps lose their appeal. There is just not enough resolution. Even with the ability to zoom in and out, there is so much information to present that the linkages are lost in the zooming. There has to be a better way.
A quick search of the web shows lots of software tools that provide information visualization capabilities. Much of this stuff was developed by or in relation to the US National Homeland Security initiatives following 9/11. While these may be good at showing trends in data, they don’t have the flexibility I’m thinking of.
Read Write Web had an excellent summary of visualization tools available on the web back in March 08. Some of these tools are very interesting. If there was a way to combine these, they may do the trick. Start with the Visual Thesaurus, an interactive dictionary and thesaurus which creates word maps that blossom with meanings and branch to related words, but instead of words and meaning, use organizations and functions. Make the links include such things as lines of authority, influences, lobby efforts, funding, regulatory controls and the like. Then add drill down and layering of information as in Google Earth so that information can be added or removed as required. Provide scope controls to show only the nearest links or up to the whole network. Add the ability to look at the map from a high-level as if you were in government trying to influence entire industries or switch it to look at it from the perspective of a business where you want to see how you fit with the external world.
Now, while the software tool would be cool, imagine the mountain of data required to make it useful and keep it up-to-date. This goes back to the issue of complexity and is the real value added of David’s business. The visualization tool would only provide a better way to sell this value.