Data and Development – A Conversation with Peoples’ Voices Challenge Winner, Popily

Throughout the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the UN Millennium Campaign had the pleasure of hosting the Peoples’ Voices Challenge Award Ceremony at the We the Peoples Hub. The Peoples’ Voices Challenge Awards is a celebration of the work of the hundreds of partners at the United Nations who gave voice to those who don’t often get a say in global conversations.

Data visualization is not normally the first thing you would think of when talking about empowering marginalized communities, but Popily is not your average data analytics firm. Popily is a data science and visualization company that lets everyday, non-technical people figure what is important from their data and share it with anyone, anywhere. The Popily team used the millions of MY World survey results and thousands of Humans of MY World Facebook page posts to generate interactive data visualizations. The public can explore these visualizations on their website, so people can discover the stories in the data that they find most meaningful. We talked to Popily Co-Founder Vidya Spandana about the role data visualization and analytics plays in the Post-2015 Agenda.

Tell us about Popily, some of the things you work on, and your goals as an organization:

Popily is a data visualization and data science company, we let people put in their data and automatically generate thousands of visualizations so that they can walk through a data set instead of being confused by a giant spreadsheet of lots of numbers. [Popily] is really there to democratize data so that people who don’t have a background or experience in science or statistics can actually engage with it in a real way. Imagine being able to walk through a visual representation, instead of just looking at a piece of paper. The more people who can do that, the more empowered they can be to make decisions on what is actually happening.

For us data is a way to see the world in an observational way with some kind of reality to it, and so for more people to have the ability to access that the better we think so that we can make collective decisions together. That aligns perfectly with the work that the [UN Millennium Campaign] is doing with MY World.

What was it that made [Popily] decide that [The MY World Survey] would be a perfect pilot project for you guys to work on?

When [CEO Jonathan Morgan] brought [MY World] on for us we were really excited because the idea of actually getting information and data about peoples lives around the world really humanizes the whole date concept and really brings our tool to life. We would actually really like to step back and let the data and the voice of the people shine and this was the best opportunity to do that.

What does this mean for Popily to win [Most Innovative Visualization] right now?

It’s extremely exciting for us, we launched officially about two or three months ago so it’s very new for us and to be able to announce partnership with the United Nations, to explore people’s data that actually has meaning has us over the moon. This is an opportunity that we’ve really been able to leverage and open up new opportunities around democratizing data. What were are more excited about is to bring data in the hands of regular people and whatever tools they need to be able to explore it.

What are some of the ways that people can actually use Popily?

 Sure! You would just go to Popily.com and then there you can sign up to either upload your own data sets and explore it or there are loads of public data sets – including the MY World data set – that you can explore yourselves.

What are some of the finding you saw in the [MY World] data?

 There were so many things that were really exciting. Just getting to actually look at what is in there has been sort of like a treasure that you can open up and see. One of the things that was really interesting is how education is such a priority across gender, age, and country… I also thought that is was interesting how in certain countries the younger generation… its better to reach them via paper balloting as opposed to any kind of web or mobile tools, and I would have never expected that.

What do you have planned for the future?

 There’s a lot actually! We’ve been partnering with companies and organizations, especially governments and city governments, to be able to explore data that citizens would care about. So helping organizers put the data in a shape that they can make some decision on and then put it back out in the hands of regular people is really fun and is exactly what we got to do.