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The Goals of the Initiative

The goals of the Visualizing Public Life Initiative are both practical and normative, and include a desire to help students develop aesthetic and technical competence in interpreting and producing good visualizations (that is, maps, charts, etc.), but also to foster moral discernment about how those visualizations are produced and interpreted.

From a practical perspective, student participants will have opportunities to develop a variety of desirable professional and civic skills. These skills include technical expertise, numeracy, effective communication, and collaboration. The initiative will, at the very least, expose students to basic elements of data visualization and a variety of cutting-edge tools currently used in business, scholarship, and media. Some students will go beyond mere exposure and advance to greater technical competency within their chosen disciplines. Many students will also take advantage of the opportunity to work collaboratively across disciplines, providing even more openings for learning.

From a normative perspective, student participants will have opportunities for moral reflection about how they visualize public life. Edward Tufte, one of the most incisive commentators on the visual display of information, points out that presenting evidence on any complex phenomenon is a “moral act” (Beautiful Evidence, Cheshire, Connecticut: Graphics Press, 2006, p. 9). It requires that both producers and consumers consider how data are collected, stored, manipulated, and represented, which raises a host of questions about quality, relevance, and integrity. Clearly, as Christians who are called to love our neighbors and serve the Kingdom of God, we have a stake in offering answers to these questions.