Exploring data through the lens of a not-for-profit organization
When I am not working with SAP I have the very great pleasure of volunteering with an amazing organization called Pacific Community Resources Society (PCRS). PCRS helps youth and families to find work, beat addiction, learn new life skills, and stay in school. They are a creative group of people who really know how to stretch their resources. As many of the programs that PCRS runs are targeted at youth in the lower mainland, I was curious about whether I could learn more about the kinds of youth we might serve.
At the same time I was curious about what it might be like to try to explore data from the perspective of someone who does not have a wealth of technical resources easily available and readily at hand. For a not-for-profit agency like PCRS, there is a tendency to spend money on supporting programs, not on enhancing technical infrastructure. As a result, the IT department is small and thrifty.
My first approach was to start by using only Lumira Cloud. That way I did not have to install anything, and the free edition fit perfectly into my budget! I downloaded some data from the BC government open data project and was able to find some datasets about schools and student enrollments in handy .xls and .csv formats.
Loading the datasets into Lumira Cloud was very easy, and I was soon in the Visualization window and ready to work with my data – however, there was a problem. Some of the data in the .xls file was in a text format rather than a number format. There were some incorrect values that had to be fixed. There was a calculation I wanted that didn’t exist. There is no data preparation tab in Lumira Cloud, so every time I wanted to adjust my data I had to go back to the .xls to make changes and re-upload the data set. It was a nuisance. Manipulating the data is so much easier in the Lumira desktop Prepare tab than it is in Excel.
Lumira Cloud would have met my needs if I had a data set prepared for me. In this case, since I needed to prepare my own data set, I went to Lumira.com and downloaded Lumira desktop. The good news is that Lumira desktop was still within my budget (free!). With Lumira desktop I was able to upload my data and then make the changes to the data, and if I discovered new changes I wanted to make to my data as I played with my visualizations it was easy to flip over to the Prepare tab to make changes and then continue visualizing.
My key take-away as a result of this experiment was that while visualizing data is fun and can reveal some interesting insights, the data preparation is really an essential step. If a not-for-profit organization was looking at how they might use the great free Lumira versions available, I would recommend that they have a couple of power users who download the Lumira desktop personal edition and prepare the data sets for the organization. I would also recommend that those data sets be shared widely in the organization to be accessed in Lumira Cloud which is so easy to access without any need for installing software.
As a result of the experiment I also learned some interesting things about the youth population in my community. I learned that there are a significant number of aboriginal youth in all parts of our city. There are about the same number of girls as boys in our schools, and there isn’t a significant drop out rate for girls as they progress through high school. And most of all, there are a lot of youth and many schools in my community, so the services of organizations such as PCRS are as much in need as ever before.