One of the first pieces of feedback I received on my work at Leicestershire County Council in 2000 included this glowing testament: “Data presentation is default, formulaic and does not generally convey any useful information.” And so began an adventure in data visualisation.

This started by studying the classics – Tufte, MacEachren, Few – and making sensible graphics in Excel and Mapinfo to later (2009) working on secondment at the giCentre, London as Research Associate on a project visualising library lending data in the Processing programming language. And that’s where I discovered Tableau, and finally found a product that allowed me to focus on producing visual analysis at the speed of thought, rather than spending my time debugging code.

I believe the best way to provide effective analysis and insight is via co-production with users; discussing their needs and building the viz in front of the intended users. This was something that varied from difficult to impossible prior to Tableau. This approach has led me to build visualisations in museums, libraries and in highway depots.

Since 2011, I have worked as Team Leader of Research and Insight at Leicestershire County Council in the UK and use Tableau with an ever-expanding number of different datasets and clients. This covers analysing surveys, understanding crime, demographic and economic trends, and making sense of data from services as diverse as social work to grass cutting. In a sector which is experiencing substantial financial constraints, understanding data better using Tableau is proving an essential way to make the best use of available resources.

I’ve even managed to get a few journal articles published as I try to banish the memory of that first project.