Interview with Vrinda Khanna | The winner of the 9th Data for a Cause challenge

In this interview, I talked with Vrinda Khanna, the winner of the 9th Data for a Cause challenge - visualizing international progress in marine conservation for the UN’s Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centere. The goal of the challenge was to compare land- and marine protected areas to show their respective positive growth since 2010.

Vrinda lives in Singapore, and has been working in the field of data analytics for the past 3 years. She works for a consulting firm, in the visual analytics department. She enjoys consulting, because it offers a lot of learning opportunities as well as variety. Recently, Vrinda discovered data visualization tools like Tableau and Qlik. Finding it hard to implement data storytelling and design principles at her job, because of project restrictions and limitations, she joined the Data For A Cause to work with useful data, and practice applying data storytelling skills, as well as to try out different data presentation techniques, and get constructive feedback.

How did your visualization come together?

I started with the guide that came together with the dataset. I identified the main fields to work with and put them into my tool and played around using Tableau. I didn't want to do any complex calculations for this project; I just wanted to present the data in the most easily digestible way.

I decided to make it look more like an infographic, not something that people would go really deep into and analyze. I showed the information in three sections - this is what's happening in the world; this is how far we've come along; and this is what we are planning to do.

I structured it in a visual way. I tried to create a marine theme - I used blue in the first chart to make the marine areas look like a whale, and kept the land areas as a flat brown shape.

The goal of the challenge was to compare marine- and land conservation areas. I thought the map chart type would be the most useful to show where the marine areas are, so I used a circle to show the protected area type. Blue circles show marine protected areas, and brown circles show land areas.

Then, I looked at the dataset to see where the top sites which are being conserved are, and how much progress has been made in the past 10 years. I found that most of the progress has been made with marine sites, so I drove the theme of the comparison of marine to land conservation areas throughout my visualization. I've included the number of sites and the area covered to show the progress in marine conservation.

Creating this visualization was an educational experience for me. For example, personally, I was interested in the Great Barrier Reef, because it is well-known. But as I was going through the process of creating this visualization, selecting the areas around Australia, I realized that there are so many other critical protected areas.

How long did it take to create your visualization?

I created it over a weekend. The data that we received was clean, so I didn't have to spend any time cleaning it up. I started by spending some time getting to know the data and creating a few exploratory bar charts.

I went through the email with the description of the challenge and the supporting documentation. So I did spend some time there, as well as to make sure that I was on the right track and my visualization was relevant. It was very helpful to have the goal already defined in the challenge. Usually, for my personal projects, it takes some time to come up with the goal of the analysis. But this time I knew right away what they would like to see, so I just focused on the goal.

How did you decide what tool to use to create your visualization?

I used Tableau because I happen to like it. I got started with Tableau though one of the projects at work and now I use it on a daily basis. It's easy to create something and share it on the Tableau Public website.

Vrinda's data visualization (click on the image to view the interactive version):

Vrinda's data visualization