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Regional Arts Fund Manager Mary Jane Warfield explains the background to developing and sharing the Regional Arts Fund infographics.

Before I was the Regional Arts Fund Manager at Regional Arts Australia (RAA) I was a festival director and project coordinator and had worked on many different projects in Victoria and the NT that had received funding from the Regional Arts Fund (RAF). So, I knew the impact this funding could have for an event and its community, and the Professional Development opportunities available for artists and arts workers through the Quick Response Grants. I knew that it was an essential source of funding for regional, rural and remote Australia. What I didn’t fully grasp was the scope and breadth of the fund across the country.

On my first day as RAF Manager back in 2015 I started to grasp the scope and breadth of the impact of the RAF and I had a vision of a map of Australia on the wall with a pin for each RAF project. I remember being really impressed by the list of projects and locations. I also remember recognising the names of many of the locations, having travelled through regional and remote Australia on a 6-month road trip in 2013. For all the locations I knew about and had travelled through, there were just as many that I didn’t know and wanted to understand.

And then the job got underway and there was loads to do in terms of contracts, data collection, communicating with the national network and reporting to Government. There is so much information generated from the applications and acquittals and I really enjoy having an oversight of it all, but I still wanted to share that information out to the world. As things got busy the vision of the map slipped from my mind, and I got on with the job of running the program.

When Ros Abercrombie came on as our Executive Director in late 2018, I told her that there had been 364 RAF projects in 2017-18 - almost one project for every day of the year! She said “wouldn’t it be great if we had a map of Australia with all the projects on it?” and I knew that it was time to make this vision a reality.

The first step (like any good event of festival) was to think about the end result and work backwards. What did we want it to be? How would it operate? Who could access it?

We shared a vision of a map that is public, that anyone can search and see the reach of the RAF and learn more about the program from a national perspective, and over a period of time.

So, I set to work finding a program that would be robust enough to cope with our data. There were lots of free mapping tools that weren’t up to the job.

To give an idea of the volume of data… for each RAF project there are application and acquittal forms. So, I collect 48 pieces of data (from project location and postcode to dollar amount of applicant in-kind contribution and everything in between) on each project.

When deciding what should be included in the map we thought that including all projects since 1 July 2016 would be a good scope. It was a date that made sense not only is that the last election date but also the start of our current four-year funding agreement with the Federal Government.

So, that was 860 projects. 860 projects x 48 bits of data is a whopping 41,280 bits of information! The free mapping tools I found just couldn’t cope with the that amount of data.

What I did find was Tableau. Tableau is (in their own words) “business intelligence software that helps people see and understand their data”. Perfect! I thought, that’s just what we want, but we don’t just want to see it internally, we want to show off to the world. We want everyone to see and understand our data.

Now I am not a data analyst, I’m an arts worker who has picked up some great skills in excel, so it was a bit daunting at first, but I found Tableau to be user-friendly software with good video tutorials. To help matters, I had some great data to work with and a really clear vision of what we wanted to end up with - a map with a pin for every RAF project, available to anyone who can see our website.

I started working with the 41,280 bits of data and then realised there may have been some errors – some of the data is entered by applicants and some by grant managers from the different Regional Program Administrators and along the way people sometimes input the wrong electorate or postcode and I thought, “we can’t have this. We need to be 100% confident that all the data is correct”. So, I spent a couple of weeks going back over all 860 projects and double-checking all the data that we wanted to share was accurate. And now it is!

Once I had clean and verified data, I started working with it on tableau desktop, which is wonderful and you can make amazing visualisations, but you can only share these outside of your organisations in a static way – as still images. “This won’t do! We need to bring this to the world and have them play with it and search it” I thought.

So, I investigated a bit further and found Tableau Public, which allows you to make similar visualisations as the desktop version, but you can publish them out to the world. Hooray!

I have created 11 different visualisations on this first round of data publishing and I learnt a lot, but there is so much more to learn. It’s just the start of our journey with Tableau and I’m really keen to learn more and keep sharing the impact of the RAF in a way that is visual, accessible and interactive.

I figured it’s not just me who is inspired and excited by this, and it turns out I was right. We have had loads of great feedback and so many views! Thanks for looking at the map and the other visualisations and for all the great feedback we have received about publishing this information in an interactive way.

If you have a suggestion about something that would be great to know about the RAF please get in contact and I can consider it for future visualisations.

Click here to read a blog post about the company and its popularity.