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Improving the Utility of Wounded Warrior Statistics

MAYA Design, Inc. 2730 Sidney Street Pittsburgh, PA 15203 412-488-2900 www.maya.com Doc. Number: MAYA-11023 Š 2011 MAYA Design, Inc. All rights reserved.


Improving the Utility of Wounded Warrior Statistics

An unfortunate byproduct of war is the sacrifice made by individual warfighters who are wounded or killed during their valiant time of military service. Statistics on casualties of war are a constant reminder of one of the most personal and painful costs of battle.

Public reports on the number of warfighters killed or wounded (collectively referred to as “wounded warriors”) since the onset of a military program such as Operation Iraqi Freedom help to raise awareness among audiences whose members may be more socially distant from either those serving or their immediate families. News reports that account for the tragedies and valor of individual incidents, such as a helicopter struck down in battle, provide specific insights and propel numerous discussions on many fronts— technical, political, social, and economic. Meanwhile, top sight—a high level, top-down view—of casualty data similarly provokes discussions and actions among those in both government and non-government sectors. Most data on wounded warriors packaged for public consumption supports this top sight view. Despite the availability of “public use” statistics, it remains difficult to piece together a personally defined and detailed view of the population of wounded warriors. This is especially true when there is an interest or need to explore and slice the data along multiple demographic segments. Such analyses would be helpful, for example, to assess whether a segment of interest is possibly bearing an unequal portion of the burden or to plan targeted outreach for social services. While there are sources that report casualties by race, gender, age, military operation and date, the attributes are segmented into different data tables. For example, there is no convenient way to explore Asian males under age 25 who were wounded in Operation Enduring Freedom. Information is far more revealing and compelling when it is presented in dynamic maps, charts and presentations that can be customized to support an individual user’s line of inquiry. Visualizing point data (individual places), polylines (like a route) and polygons (shapes – like county boundaries) provides greater clarity and deeper understanding of what the data means. As an example, imagine trying to read (let alone recognize a pattern from) a table that reports the following data: •

Location of exporters in the Pennsylvania coverage area for the Appalachian Regional Commission;

Indication of whether exports go to China;

County unemployment statistics.

© 2011 MAYA Design, Inc. All rights reserved.

Next, look at Figure 1, a map illustrating a display of that information. The patterns jump out in the graphic visualization and make assertions easy to formulate.

Figure 1

Patterns and relationships are apparent when viewing a map of companies exporting to China (diamonds) and elsewhere (circles) when overlaid on GIS data on unemployment statistics (shading) and coverage by the Appalachian Regional Commission (county shapes).

A prerequisite for this concurrent analysis is hosting the data in one place, regardless of its original source. Yes, the U.S. wounded warrior data is public, but it must be manually scraped, parsed, and merged from more than one source, and then imported into a software tool chosen by the user to enable data manipulation and reporting. Only then can such synthesis potentially support someone’s inquiries along multiple concurrent dimensions. Given the current state of reporting, when detailed information is needed on wounded warriors a tedious effort is required to reap targeted results from what is

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Improving the Utility of Wounded Warrior Statistics

publicly available. A dose of patience and preferably some experience conducting research online are helpful. The effort takes time, which is generally a valued commodity. It is highly likely that more than one investigator has gone to the trouble of integrating data from multiple sources, unaware that others have done so before him.

Google

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Google wounded warrior data in United States of America Google Search

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Gmail

woundewarrior statistics wounded warrior statistics wounded warrior statue wounded warrior staten island wounded warrior stands to welcome comrades About 220,000 results (0.22 seconds)

Figure 2

Efforts of independent researchers, who toil to bring together disparate information sources, are often redundant.

Reaping Value in the Data The limitations of today’s data presentation creates challenges for leaders of non-defense government organizations who want to look at the details on the people through varied lenses, or for minorities who seek to recognize the contribution of their brethren at a level of detail that has greater meaning for them, or for reporters who seek the ability to easily generate statistics relevant to a particular story line they are researching. Presumably, at least the employees of U.S. defense and veterans agencies have back office tools and greater access to data. Beyond the “third party” information needs characterized above, there is another very important customer for wounded warrior information—the wounded hero and his key supporters such as family members, care-givers and others with close ties. Wounded warriors would also benefit personally from improved information access. A wounded soldier or his family members may find solace in learning that their experience in a particular military operation was one of a group of ten others of like race hailing from the same region, or from the same ethnic group and gender. They could define, explore and quantify the group that interests them personally if the data were more accessible, especially if it were combined with tools that allow for its easy exploration and visualization.

Google

Regardless of the potential to be aware of, and be granted access to, a useful dataset, it may soon be outdated as a result of newer data that is posted subsequently. Another issue with independent synthesis is the risk of mismatching disparate datasets. This can lead to errors, as well as inconsistencies in data among parallel, uncoordinated synthesis efforts. Also, the ability to tie together content across sources may be tedious, require red tape to gain access or may simply be unfeasible. As time passes, there is an added concern with data provided by certain online sites that report derivative data. What will the endurance be for those resources, especially ones with a laser-like focus on a particular interest area such as a single war or a single ethnic group? What will be their fate long after that operation has ceased, or the organization responsible for the analysis disbands due to a lack of funds or other reasons? Will their website and its contents be maintained in perpetuity? How will reports inclusive of newer facts and figures capture that aging content in order to present cumulative data if those earlier, older resources fade away?

© 2011 MAYA Design, Inc. All rights reserved.

Personnel Data

wounded warr

Incident Data

User-Chosen Data

Figure 3

The combination of attributes characterizing the wounded warrior that are interesting or informative to explore will depend on who is doing the exploration.

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Improving the Utility of Wounded Warrior Statistics

Making the details on our wounded warriors more accessible is also an additional way to pay tribute to them. Releasing the information from its silos and providing greater depth is a way to provide a higher level of recognition—a more humanized and personalized one. Beyond taking personal pride in their contribution, the warfighter and his family members can take pride as a representative of a specifically defined group with whom they identify, where the group is characterized by their own combination of ethnic group, race, service group, gender or other concurrent attributes that have personal meaning to them and that are in the public domain. For attributes not officially tracked, self-reporting could add further to personalization of the data and enable novel data-driven revelations.

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Gmail

ndewarrior statistics nded warrior statistics nded warrior statue nded warrior staten island nded warrior stands to welcome comrades

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A Solution for Transparency, Usability and Recognition Capturing the data in a single, central repository that includes tools for easy exploration and reporting would serve a wide and diverse audience. A publicly accessible repository, one that is more inclusive than datasets now available for export, would be a more enduring, more useful and more reliable home for this valuable information. The DoD likely has such utility for internal use, but it is inaccessible to outsiders. If theirs is not designed for “walkup and use” ease and convenience, then even DoD users could benefit from a new data management solution. Yale Computer Scientist David Gelernter, in his book Mirror Worlds (1989), sketched a vision of a global public information space into which the real-time state of the world’s activities would be constantly fed, digested into a seamless model of the state of the planet, and fed back to millions of personal computers where it could be visualized, examined, and analyzed by countless people for countless purposes. Technology available today can rapidly and cost efficiently translate that concept to practical application if the scope is scaled to a limited information domain. The domain of wounded warrior information is highly approachable. New developments in database technology and novel web-based tools for data sharing and visualization can be readily combined to create a seamless, integrated, public information resource on wounded warriors that can be easily maintained for use by all for any number of purposes.

Figure 4

Personalizing the recognition of military service offers social and emotional benefits.

The difficulty in getting at this type of detailed information on our wounded warriors is not because the basic data is not public. For the most part, it already is, thanks to the rigorous efforts of the DoD. Rather, it is because it is not published in a way that allows it to be easily retrieved, synthesized, analyzed and understood. It exists in different forms and from different resources, each with different pieces of the information puzzle. With limited exceptions, these puzzle pieces are scattered and stored in information containers not designed to support data merging for consumption in agile ways.

© 2011 MAYA Design, Inc. All rights reserved.

We present here a simple roadmap for the creation of a resource, initially domestic in scope, which will be a self-renewing repository for information on our nation’s wounded warriors. Over time, consideration can be given to extending the resource to include information on first responders or other groups who face similar challenges and consequences. The repository can apply existing commercially available technology for data capture, storage, and delivery. We believe it should also provide user-friendly capabilities for data manipulation and present human-friendly visualizations of simple queries and more sophisticated analyses.

Starting Point — The Data Sources At present, there are several data sources that provide online reports on wounded warfighters on a consistent

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Improving the Utility of Wounded Warrior Statistics

basis. At the highest level, The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) updates this information and posts summaries in news items found on defenselink.mil. More details can be found on websites provided by DoD Personnel and Procurement Statistics.1 Both sources mainly display data tables, each of which includes a limited number of attributes for each person identified. The sites offer little facility for exploring content beyond simply reading the table. The Personnel site enables users to export certain data into several file formats, but the fields included for use with this feature exclude race and ethnicity, even though that data is offered in other tables.

Understanding Users

Another wounded warrior data resource is the nonprofit organization, icasualties.org, which provides comparatively more integrated information on casualties in its online tool, Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. However, as its name indicates, content relates exclusively to the present war in Iraq. Like the DefenseLink site, most content is posted in static data tables that offer a limited number of basic attributes, for example name, city/state/country, rank, branch/unit, age, cause/date/place of incident. Icasualties. org offers a more advanced, but still very limited, capacity to filter and view data for a single attribute preselected by the data host. For example, users can choose to see state tallies displayed on a map for either those killed or those wounded. No other attributes can be filtered online within those mapped results.

Research is also needed to validate the types of information and tools needed by government and non-government consumers of the data. It will be important to understand how key stakeholders will consume the data. This will entail engagements with various stakeholders in design sessions. Human-centered design techniques such as interviewing and contextual inquiry can be applied to reveal spoken and unspoken needs. We at MAYA believe that to tame the complexity of technology and information, such research is crucial to understanding user needs and for the design of solutions that are human-centered.

Other sources for data include unclassified reports and briefings published by government organizations. A sampling of these sources includes: •

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report;

Reports prepared by the DoD Military Casualty Information, Statistical Information and Analysis Division;

Reports published by the Defense Manpower Data Center, Statistical Information Analysis Division;

DoD Directorate of Information, Operations, and Reports (DIOR);

The National Archives and Records Administration, Iraq Weekly Status Report, Department of State.

Invariably, reports available to the public from these other sources are highly static documents ill suited to unique inquiries.

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Taking the available data to a higher level of transparency and utility will require thought and planning. Research is needed to understand the various homes for the available data and how content and the responsibility for it differ across the hosts. A technical assessment is needed to understand how the content can be correlated and tied together across sources. Business and technical constraints need to be explored to understand the potential for establishing those connections and for making the resulting combined content more accessible.

Innovative ideas to gain novel value from the data can be explored. Ideas may include collaborative data analysis, linkages to social media for purposes of networking, outreach and self-help, and mechanisms to identify government sponsored social services, educational materials or related news items. Depending on how such a resource is funded, and the mission of the organization that ultimately hosts it, these ideas range anywhere from aggressive to mere starting points for transformational opportunities to realize greater benefits from the data assets.

State of the Art Solutions for Data Interaction The results of these research investigations are important to inform the overall concept and detailed design of a repository and tools for accessing, manipulating and viewing wounded warrior data. Fortunately, commercial software solutions are well suited to manage these data tasks and can be swiftly and affordably adapted to serve various purposes. One example is Rhiza Insight (Rhiza Labs). Its simple-to-use mapping and analysis tools enable users to break down data silos to reveal clear patterns. Geospatial analysis tools, which are no more difficult than Google Map, let users create results that can be

http://siadapp.dmdc.osd.mil/personnel/CASUALTY/castop.htm © 2011 MAYA Design, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Improving the Utility of Wounded Warrior Statistics

communicated in more meaningful, engaging ways than data tables and single attribute filters. 3 Rivers Connect (3rc) is an example of how such a platform is fed with multiple data sets and used in support of a diverse community with equally diverse interests. 3rc uses its Insight instance to power a portal informing citizens and policy makers with maps, charts and data about the Pittsburgh region. The 3rc site, Pittsburgh Today, provides a single point of access to key social and economic data and quality-of-life indicators from federal, state and local governments, policy analysts at RAND, nearby universities, and more. The result is a comprehensive overview of the city’s progress, assets and challenges. Citizens access the data as intuitive mapping visualizations created in Insight, and policymakers delve deeper into the raw data for sophisticated analysis. This enables more informed policy conversation about improving the region, based on hard facts and empirical observations that are equally visible to all constituents.

Information management tools like Insight help users adeptly answer both general and targeted questions and derive greater meaning from complex data. They include features such as graphs, maps and other representations, and the convenience of linking to source data for automated updates so the most current information is always presented. Users further benefit from the ability to introduce additional public information that increases the diversity of content. This enables richer analyses along more dimensions. The following example illustrates how multiple datasets are applied in a novel analysis. The map in Figure 5 shows how an investigator can visually explore locations to consider for a community center for seniors based on present center locations (circles sized by capacity), senior population (shaded census blocks), poverty below a threshold (crosshatch) and proximity to subway routes (lines). The data underlying the shapes can be drilled for greater detail by clicking.

Figure 5

Multiple attributes are indicated on a map of Manhattan to identify areas of potential need for new support services.

Š 2011 MAYA Design, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Improving the Utility of Wounded Warrior Statistics

Media features increase audience connection to the data, such as the ability to share newly created visualizations with others or the use of RSS syndication to distribute and receive the latest content. Subscribers to an RSS feed on wounded warriors might include military analysts, legislators, the press, social service providers, wounded warriors and their families, and other civilian subscribers. Compared to reports that park their data in static tables trapped within .pdf file formats, these powerful, dynamic functions for representing and disseminating content create greater freedom of information and enhance our ability to make sense of and derive value from it.

Moving from Data to Knowledge The increase in data transparency offered by modern data management tools can lead to new insights and elevate the level of impact of wounded warrior statistics. Improving access to, and exploration of, the data would benefit community members at large who seek to learn specific facts and patterns regarding military casualties. Perhaps most importantly, by making more accessible the attributes that help define who the wounded warriors are as individuals, their visibility and pride will be elevated. This represents an additional way for us to pay tribute to those brave and honorable people who sacrificed health or life for our country’s beliefs. The cost of war is high when measured in dollars, but the most valuable asset for humanity is life itself. It is with equal humanity and humility that we can pay our respects and honor America’s wounded warriors by making related information more transparent and accessible.

Watch our information films for more details about the taming the complexity information and how we think about the challenges and opportunities ahead at: http://www.vimeo.com/channels/maya Don’t agree with us, or want to make a difference? Let’s talk: 412-488-2900 or visit: http://www.maya.com http://www.luma-institute.com

© 2011 MAYA Design, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Wounded Warriors White paper