Moderating The World IA Data Viz Panel

This weekend was my introduction to moderating an expert panel since switching careers and becoming a data science consultant. The panel was organized by Lisa Seaman of Sapient and consisted of Andrew Turner of Esri, Amy Cesal of Sunlight Foundation, Maureen Linke of USA Today, and Brian Price of USA Today. We had roughly an hour to talk, present information, and engage the audience. You can watch the full panel discussion thanks to the excellent work of Lisa Seaman and the World IA Day organizers, but there's a bit of back-story that I think is interesting.

DataViz-BW-AgencyFB Bold DataViz-Rivers-AgencyFB BoldIn the spring of 2013 Amy Cesal helped create the DVDC logo (seen on the right), so it was nice to have someone I'd already worked with. Similarly, Lisa had attended a few DVDC and asked me to moderate because she'd enjoyed them so much. By itself it's not exactly surprising that Lisa attended some DVDC events and went with who she'd met, but common sense isn't always so common. If you google "Data Viz" or "Data Visualization" and focus on local DC companies, experts, speakers, etc. you'll find some VERY accomplished people, but there's more to why people reach out. You have to know how people work together, and you can only know by meeting them and discussing common interests, which is a tenant of all the DC2 Programs.

Now that the sappy stuff is out of the way, I wanted to share some thoughts on running the panel. I don't know about you, but I fall asleep whenever the moderator simply asks a question and each panelist answers in turn. The first response can be interesting, but each subsequent response builds little on the one before, there's no conversation. This can go on for one, maybe two go-rounds, but any more than that and the moderator is just being lazy, doesn't know the panelists, doesn't know the material, or all of the above. A good conversation builds on each response, and if that drifts away from the original question the moderator can jump in, but resetting too much by effectively re-asking the question is robotic and defeats the purpose of having everyone together in one place.

Heading this potential disaster off at the pass, Lisa scheduled a happy hour, hopefully to give us a little liquid courage and create a natural discourse. I did my homework, read about everyone on the panel, and starting imagining how everyone's expertise and experience overlapped. Accuracy vs communicating information; Managing investigative teams vs design iteration; building industry tools vs focused and elegant interfaces; D3js vs Raphael. The result: a conversation, which is what we want from a panel, isn't it?