Getting Data

by A. Scott Moreau and Mike O’Rear

Despite some of the basic limitations, obtaining increasingly accurate and up-to-date counts on all types of issues is easier than ever.

We live in an interconnected world which becomes increasingly harder to understand almost every day. At the same time, however, over the past few years resources for understanding it have gained in sophistication and ease of use. One of these types of resources is statistics. Despite some of the basic limitations, obtaining increasingly accurate and up-to-date counts on all types of issues is easier than ever, and new sites let users input data from databases and visualize it in a variety of ways. We invite those who utilize statistics for missional planning and engagement to browse our Data page (www.mislinks.org/info/stats.htm1) to see what we describe below in action. Keep in mind that space does not let us describe every site we’ve found—for that you have to visit the page.

General
Many mission organizations can benefit from general data in their planning, and increasingly, governments and government-funded organizations are making this accessible to us.

First up is Eurostat (epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/eurostat/home), run by the European Commission and a treasure trove of statistics on population, health, education and training, living conditions,  and culture. For example, click “Statistics Database” and then “Statistics by Theme” and then “Population.” Go to the main tables on the population portal (epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/population/introduction), where you can examine the population statistics for six age sets over the past decade for any country or the entire European Union (EU). Looking at the entire group, it is easy to see that the percentage of the total population for 0 to 14 year olds decreased from 17.7% in 1999 to 15.7% in 2008, while those aged 60 to 85 grew from 11.9% in 1999 to 12.7% in 2008. The reality of an aging population across the EU will impact missional planning and strategies of all types—from mobilization of Europeans to targeting them for missional engagement. Those who focus on particular countries can find the same dataset for each country as well, allowing them to tailor their search for specific issues (from asylum to migration to divorce rates).

The U.S. Government provides parallel data for the U.S. population from sources such as the Census Bureau (www.census.gov/), the Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis (bea.gov), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WONDER database (wonder.cdc.gov/).

In 2009, the U.S. launched Data.Gov (www.data.gov/), a repository of data from all branches of government. Parallel sites have been set up for other countries, including Norway (data.norge.no), Estonia (pub.stat.ee/px-web.2001/Dialog/statfile1.asp), Australia (data.australia.gov.au), and the United Kingdom (data.gov.uk). See www.data.gov/community for the most recent list and links.

Numerous international public organizations have also established database sites offering information on continents, regions, and the entire world. The United Nations offers UNdata (data.un.org/), and World Bank is making data increasingly available (data.worldbank.org; see their World Development Indicators at data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/world-development-indicators?cid=GPD_WDI).

Sites such as Gapminder (www.gapminder.org/data) have been collecting and making these and similar datasets available—and usable—for the past several years. When we checked, they had worldwide information on over four hundred indicators ranging from “Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19)” to “Yearly CO2 emissions (tonnes).”

Similarly, Google’s Public Data Explorer Datasets (www.google.com/publicdata/directory) offers quick links to particular public sector databases (e.g., see www.google.com/publicdata/overview?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_www.google.com/publicdata/over view?ds=d5bncppjof8f9 for World Development Indicators), although the Google list is not as robust as the Gapminder list.

Finally, in terms of general data, private organizations maintain databases available to the public for free (e.g., World Resources Institute; www.wri.org) or for sale (e.g., Gallup; www.gallup.com).

Religions
Generally, agencies are more interested in religion statistics than other types, so we consolidate several important resources on our page. Adherents.com (www.adherents.com/) includes, among other things, “a growing collection of over 43,870 adherent statistics and religious geography citations.”

The Association of Religion Data Archives (www.thearda.com/) is a well-respected site hosted by Pennsylvania State University that went online in 1998. Their Data Archive (www.thearda.com/Archive/Browse.asp) makes available for free almost five hundred data files (surveys, polls, and so on), structured so that you “can browse by category, alphabetically, view the newest additions, most popular files, or search for a file.”

Three pages serve as gateways to other sites offering religious statistics. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research offers links to many statistical resources through their Religion Data Resources page (hirr.hartsem.edu/sociology/research_datasets.html).

ReligionSource, a site with the general focus of serving the needs of journalists, offers a Religious Statistics page with additional helpful links (www.religionsource.org/Contents/ResourcesStatistics.aspx).

Finally, Shirl Kennedy collected and organized the links on Resource Shelf: Religion…by the Numbers (www.resourceshelf.com/2010/01/11/in-process-resources-of-the-week-religion-by-the-numbers/) to help journalists who needed religious statistics (her primary focus is on the United States).  

Data from Evangelicals
The Mission InfoBank (www.missioninfobank.org) is a “collaborative commitment to deliver high-quality, relevant, international mission-related information collections from leading Christian researchers, governments, and other sources around the world, including database, graphical, cartographic, textual, audio, and video resources.” Their growing dataset (www.missioninfobank.org/p/data/row) gives you the flexibility to explore tables based on your needs. You can choose from among several tables and tailor the data to meet your needs. Tables focus on things such as countries, people groups, languages, and denominations. Access is free, and by signing up for the site you can download higher quality images and maps.  

Evangelicals (groups and individuals) have been collecting and analyzing statistics for church or missional purposes for decades. Popular author George Barna established the Barna Group (www.barna.org), which provides free as well as fee-based “research, resources, and training to facilitate transformation in organizations, communities, and individuals.”

Operation World (www.operationworld.org) contains helpful and reliable information on every country of the world and reflects data from the new 2010 edition of the book. The website offers abbreviated data from the book, plus web links and much more. From the site, you can order a DVD-ROM containing both an enhanced form of the book and Excel spreadsheets of much of the extensive research database used by the Operation World team. Operation World (www.operationworld.org) offers helpful and reliable information on every country of the world. By clicking on the “Pray Today” link or on any of the “Countries in the News” links, you find information on those specific countries; however, the site does not give access to browsing the information by country.

The World Christian Database (www.worldchristiandatabase.org/wcd) offers subscription-based “comprehensive statistical information on world religions, Christian denominations, and people groups.” While journalists of major media outlets may subscribe for free, the site requires an email request to the publisher (Brill) for pricing information for missionaries, mission organizations, or other institutions.  

World Missions Atlas Project (worldmap.org) is a collaborative effort of several major evangelical mission organizations to develop a statistical atlas of the world, offering information on countries, peoples, churches, and evangelistic tools (e.g., Jesus film translation and Bible translation). Finally, the Network for Strategic Missions offers articles focused on mission statistics and implications (www.strategicnetwork.org/index.php?loc=kb&view=b&fto=1062&sf=Y).

Data Mining & Visualization
Simply put, “Data mining is the process of extracting patterns from data” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_mining). Getting the statistical (or other) data is the first step, but we also need to work through it, seeking patterns or anomalies that help us better understand our world if we want to engage it more fruitfully. One of the ways we can do that is to find ways to visualize data so that it makes sense to those seeing the visualization. Another is to organize it into a scheme that fits the needs of an intended audience, as done in Operation World.

Ways to Visualize Data
Two of our linked sources constantly scour sites for interesting visual presentations of data and offer links with remarks on the issue of making data communicate well. FlowingData (flowingdata.com) is a weblog designed to show “how designers, programmers, and statisticians are putting data to good use.” Nathan Yao, the creator, offers an ever-expanding set of ways people present statistical information. Information Aesthetics (infosthetics.com), like FlowingData, is a weblog that “explores the symbiotic relationship between creative design and the field of information visualization.” Both sites offer feeds for those who want to follow the visualizations they present. For example, we found Newsmap (newsmap.jp), a fascinating example of how to organize current headlines (the bigger the font, the more sources on that story). You can choose the news categories to display, as well as the countries from which the stories originate.

WorldMapper (www.worldmapper.org) is a fascinating collection of almost seven hundred maps, each showing the entire world, but with the size of the country determined by the variable being mapped (a “density-equalizing” cartogram). For example, the map showing the proportion of each country’s population who live on $10 per day or less (in terms of purchasing parity to equalize for costs in different countries; www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=153) dramatically illustrates the income gaps between the world’s countries. There is a link on every map that generates a printable pdf poster.

Visualizing Existing Data
Several sources more directly help us as missionaries and agency leaders in mining and visualizing data for our needs. The Data.gov apps showcase (www.data.gov/developers/showcase) offers links to sites that work to visualize the mountains of data on the site. An interesting approach is Datamasher (www.datamasher.org), which lets you choose two datasets you want visualized, as well as the mathematical operator (e.g., maternal mortality times percentage of people without health insurance) and compare the fifty states to each other in a map of the results. While this is limited to U.S. data, it may give you ideas on the types of things you could compare to meet your needs.

Gapminder (graphs.gapminder.org), noted above, is one of the more fascinating data presentation sites we found. You can build your own presentations, illustrating statistical changes over time, drawing from six hundred indicators (from education to health to employment to income). The created map, when played, animates the changes for every country for which data is available over the course of the timeline (in some cases, this is hundreds of years). You can choose countries to be highlighted or not in the animation, including leaving trails to clearly indicate progression over time. One of the recent additions to the site is a download that runs Gapminder on your local computer, freeing you from needing an Internet connection and letting you bookmark presentations you develop. The site also offers several presentations of changing world statistics in a variety of formats (videos, slide show, flash presentations) and languages.

Gapminder is a powerful tool for general statistics, but the site most directly helpful for agencies is the World Missions Atlas Project (worldmap.org). Their statistical atlas provides a variety of highly detailed maps for every country of the world. You can download maps from the site that require poster-size paper (and printers) to take advantage of the level of detail. The beta version of the site offers Google-world style maps that allow you to see the country in satellite, terrain, map, or hybrid views.

Adding and Visualizing Your Data
Google Chart Tools (code.google.com/apis/charttools/) makes it possible for you to add static or interactive charts (bar, pie, line, map, etc.) to any web page (such as your agency home page). You provide the data, choose the type of chart and how you want it to look. Google Chart Tools generates a URL that you place on your page, which creates the chart and inserts it into your page. Swivel (www.swivel.com) also creates charts, but you can only display them on the Swivel site. You input and display your data using their tools. You can display data on the public view for free; if you want to develop and display charts for private organizational use you will need to subscribe for a fee.

Many Eyes (manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/), an IBM site, is like Swivel in that it lets you upload your own data and choose how it will be displayed (from bubble charts to wordless; check out the examples posted on our MisLinks page). Wordle (www.wordle.net) does the same, but focuses exclusively on mapping text. You either cut and paste text or type it in and it generates a visual map of what you enter. For example, you can cut and paste a book of the Bible or a document such as the Lausanne Covenant and it generates a visual “map” of the words. The size of the word indicates its frequency in the text. The visual map omits common words such as “the,” but you can customize this as well as the color and arrangement schemes.  

Conclusion
Even five years ago the amount of data readily available was only a fraction of what it is today, and we anticipate that finding helpful and usable data will continue to get easier in the future—as long as you have Internet access and are willing to take the time to look through the sources. Agencies are now able to glean from extensive datasets in ways that help them better utilize their resources. In light of the impact from the current global financial stresses it is important for us to be the best stewards we can be. As always, if you know of sites we’ve missed, let us know so that we can add them to the page.

Endnote
1. All URLs start with http:// unless otherwise noted.

….

A. Scott Moreau is editor of EMQ and a professor in the Intercultural Studies department at Wheaton College Graduate School (Wheaton, Ill.). His email address is A.S.Moreau@wheaton.edu, and the Wheaton Intercultural Studies Department web address is www.wheaton.edu/intr.

Mike O’Rear is the president of Global Mapping International (Colorado Springs, Colo.), which is dedicated to providing access to information for church and mission leaders, especially in the Majority World. His email address is mike@gmi.org, and the GMI web address is www.gmi.org.

EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 4, pp. 486-491. Copyright  © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

 

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