Category Archives: Data

11 Jan

Measuring the SDGs: The Role of Household Surveys

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have replaced the Millennium Development Goals with broad and lofty aspirations ranging from health, education, and gender equality to clean energy and responsible consumption.

Sustainable Development GoalsBehind each Sustainable Development Goal is a series of targets and each target can be measured by one or more indicators. Many of the targets in the areas of good health, zero hunger, no poverty, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and reduced inequalities can be measured directly from DHS surveys. In fact, in many cases, this information has been collected as part of the DHS for decades, and indicator data already exist.

For example, the second SDG, “Zero Hunger,” is supported by 8 targets. One of these is: “By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons” (Target 2.2).

Target 2.2 of SDGs

This is where DHS comes in. DHS surveys have measured the height and weight of children under 5 since the 1980s. These measurements are compared to international reference standards to calculate stunting and wasting.Trends in Stunting in South Asia

As DHS data in the STATcompiler show, 4 countries in South Asia have made progress in reducing stunting since the 1990s, but stunting in this region is still unacceptably high. Future surveys will assess whether or not they can achieve a 40% reduction (the international target) by 2025.

Similarly, the SDG for Good Health and Well Being includes a target on reducing childhood mortality: “By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births” (Target 3.2).

Childhood mortality data have been collected as a standard part of DHS surveys since 1985. While neonatal and under-five mortality have declined in many DHS countries, the target of 25 under-five deaths for every 1,000 live births is still a long way off for many. In Tanzania, for example, under-five mortality has dropped steadily since 1999 but is not yet near the international target.

Under-five mortality in East Africa

Other SDG-supporting indicators currently collected in DHS surveys include access to safe water and improved toilet facilities, early marriage, family planning demand satisfied, antenatal care coverage, and birth registration. Others are not part of the DHS standard questionnaire but are often collected in optional modules, such as the maternal mortality ratio, female genital cutting, and violence against women.

In addition, new questions were added to the DHS questionnaire at the beginning of DHS-7 (2013-2018). The data resulting from these questions are starting to appear in DHS final reports and respond to SDG indicators such as clean cooking fuel, tobacco use, internet access, bank accounts, and mobile telephone ownership. A new DHS module on accidents and injuries will respond to the SDG indicator on road traffic accidents. A full list of the DHS-related SDG indicators can be found on the SDGs page of the DHS website.

Demand for Family Planning videoBut as always, collecting data is not enough. The DHS Program is also working to make the DHS-related SDGs easier to find, interpret, and use. This past year we released a video tutorial on the complicated “Demand for Family Planning Satisfied” indicator, and worked with partner Blue RasterDemand for Family Planning video to create an SDGs Story Map.

In the coming year, you will see a standard SDGs table for the final reports, addition of an SDGs tag to facilitate location of SDGs in the STATcompiler, and expansion of the SDGs page on our website.

Stay tuned as we develop these tools. And in the meantime, we’ll be out in the field, collecting the data the world needs to monitor progress towards sustainable development.

16 Nov

From National to Local: A New Way to Leverage DHS Data

In DHS survey final reports, data are presented on a national or first-level administrative sub-national level. However, this is usually not the level at which program planning and decision making are truly happening. To support more decentralized decision making at lower administrative levels, data need to be presented on a more disaggregated level.

The DHS Program is producing a standard set of spatially modeled map surfaces for each population-based survey for a select list of indicators that provide smaller area estimates of data. Geostatistics are used to predict (interpolate) the indicator value for unsampled areas based on data from sampled data locations. DHS creates standardized modeled map surfaces using DHS survey data along with global covariate datasets. Currently, sets of standard surfaces are available for 16 surveys. Spatial data packages and stand-alone maps are available for download through The DHS Program’s Spatial Data Repository.

How can modeled map surfaces be used?

These new spatially modeled surfaces can help in several ways to improve decision making for many development sectors that include health, population, nutrition, and water and sanitation programs on multiple levels. Users can combine the maps with other resources to support:

  1. Monitoring and evaluation: analysis and evaluation of past initiatives (impact analysis) or understanding existing situations
  2. Program planning: future planning of appropriate programs and policies

Data in the modeled surfaces can be used to evaluate past programs or to better understand existing situations. Such evaluations can help to understand deviations from the norm, attribute cause, or to contribute to impact evaluations, which analyze what would have happened to the population of an area if a program had not been implemented.

Program managers can also use modeled surfaces to plan, target, and develop interventions and programs that aim to improve situations in targeted geographic areas. Interventions can be targeted more precisely, saving money, time, and human resources in the search for the most effective outcomes.

The matrix below shows potential approaches for monitoring and evaluating past and planning future programs using modeled surfaces.

This matrix is by no means comprehensive, and it is expected that map users will come up with many more potential uses after analyzing their particular situation and maps for their country.

To read more, please see the Spatial Analysis Report 14, “Guidance for Use of The DHS Program Modeled Map Surfaces.” The report delivers more in-depth information on what modeled surfaces The DHS Program is creating, as well as an explanation of their creation process. In addition, the report provides guidance on limitations and assumptions.

The DHS Program is looking forward to seeing how groups will use this new data product to enhance their activities. There is enormous potential for innovative uses of these modeled surfaces beyond those discussed in the report. Users are encouraged to submit ideas and case studies to The DHS Program (spatialdata@dhsprogram.com) as only a large community of users who share their experiences will fully expose the maps’ potential.


Aileen Marshall is the Knowledge Management/Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist at The DHS Program. She is responsible for planning, development, implementation and evaluation of the KM strategy, KM activities as well as the project-wide SharePoint site. Additionally, she is involved in measuring and evaluating capacity strengthening activities at DHS and works closely with all teams to ensure knowledge at DHS is captured, stored and shared efficiently among staff. Aileen holds an MA in English Linguistics from the Westfaelische Wilhelms-University in Muenster, Germany, and an MLIS from the University of South Carolina.

Trinadh Dontamsetti is the Health Geographic Analyst for The DHS Program. He contributes to geospatial analysis, mapmaking, and geographic data processing activities. His research interests include geospatial interpolation, tuberculosis, and vector arthropod-borne diseases.

 

Clara R. Burgert is the GIS Coordinator for The DHS Program. She oversees all  geographic data, mapping, and geospatial analysis activities at The DHS Program.  Additionally, she facilitates workshops in partner countries on using maps for better decision making using open source GIS software.

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02 Nov

Enfin, STATcompiler et l’Appli Mobile du DHS Program disponibles en français

L’attente est finie! Le STATcompiler et l’Appli Mobile du DHS Program sont désormais disponibles en français.  Saviez-vous que 30 % des enquêtes du DHS Program sont réalisées dans pays francophones ? Notre objectif est d’augmenter l’utilisation de nos données par nos collègues francophones.  Ces deux outils placent plus de 250 enquêtes de 90+ pays au bout de vos doigts et ils satisferont vos besoins des données démographiques et de santé numériques.

Le STATcompiler permet aux utilisateurs de créer des tableaux personnalisés et visualiser les données avec des histogrammes, graphiques linéaires, et cartes thématiques. Arrivé à la page d’accueil de STATcompiler, les utilisateurs peuvent choisir leur langue préférée: Page d'accueilfrançais ou anglais. Si vous êtes en milieu francophone, les paramètres de STATcompiler choisiront automatiquement le français comme la langue de défaut, ainsi que l’anglais pour ceux en milieu anglophone. N’inquiétez pas, vous pouvez toujours changer la langue en sélectionnant  « English » ou « Français »  comme le graphique à gauche indique.

 

Commencer en choisissant les indicateurs et les pays qui vous intéressent. Un tableau sera produit avec les données que vous avez choisies.

Tableau et indicateur

 Après, visualiser ces données avec des histogrammes, graphiques linéaires, et cartes thématiques. Voilà, une carte des ménages qui disposent d’électricité.

Carte

L’Appli Mobile présente 125 indicateurs pour toutes les enquêtes du DHS Program, y compris la désagrégation par des caractéristiques sociodémographiques, telles que régions infranationales, niveau d’instruction et quintiles de bien-être économique. L’Appli Mobile permet aux utilisateurs à explorer par pays ou par indicateur pour voir les tendances et les comparaisons entre les pays. Vous trouvez-vous loin d’une connection d’internet? L’appli est aussi disponible pour l’accès en mode déconnectée.

appli3

promptLes utilisateurs actuels de l’Appli seront avertis par un message sur l’écran d’accueil de l’appli qui indique qu’elle est maintenant disponible en français et fournit des instructions pour comment changer les paramètres des langues. Pour les nouveaux utilisateurs, l’Appli ouvrira la premère fois selon les paramètres de langue de l’appareil. Les utilisateurs anglophone pourront tous basculer facilement entre les deux langues dans les paramètres de l’Appli.

Télécharger l’Appli Mobile gratuitement pour les appareils Android et iOs.

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05 Oct

Social Good Summit 2016: How DHS data can help measure progress towards meeting the Global Goals

We were fortunate to have attended the UN Foundation’s Social Good Summit again which, through a variety of vibrant speakers from US UN Ambassador Samantha Power to actor and activist Alec Baldwin, emphasized the recently-adopted 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals.

While we thoroughly enjoyed all of the sessions and speakers, we were particularly moved listening to Joyce Banda on challenges for women in public office, advocates from the Malala Fund inspiring conversation about the importance of education for girls and refugees, and Memory Banda describing life for girls in Malawi and taking a stand against child marriage.

At this year’s summit, it was again made clear that the collection of quality data is vital. Data will measure progress towards the SDGs. As DHS data supported collection and reporting of data for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is expected to contribute to the measurement of as many as 13 of the 17 SDGs.

Since 2013, before the SDGs were officially determined and announced, The DHS Program was involved in dozens of meetings to determine the feasibility of collecting data required to measure SDG indicators in DHS surveys. After careful review of all 230 SDG indicators, we highlighted 86 that are population-based and feasible through household or facility surveys.  Of these, we have classified 32 that are already in our questionnaires and modules, and 20 that require minor additions or changes to questions and reporting. Below are just a few examples:

Goal 3: Proportion of women age 15-49 who have their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. Learn more>>

Goal 5: Proportion of women age 15-49 who make their own informed decisions regarding sexual relations, contraceptive use, and reproductive health care. Learn more>>

Goal 6: Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water services. Learn more>>

Goal 7: Proportion of population with access to electricity. Learn more>>

Goal 16: Proportion of children under 5 whose births have been registered with a civil authority, by age. Learn more>>

By the time the next summit rolls around, we hope to have integrated those indicators that are feasible and practical for collection in a DHS survey into all DHS tools. In the meantime, you can watch the 2016 Social Good Summit live stream and check out what we were saying during the summit.

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31 Aug

2014 Lesotho DHS Shows Great Improvements, but Focus on HIV Remains

Many DHS surveys include HIV testing. In some countries, the resulting HIV prevalence data prove to be a distraction; there is more attention on an unchanged 1% HIV prevalence rate than on the tremendous malaria burden or a high child mortality rate. The 2014 Lesotho DHS (LDHS), however, is a very different case. While the 2014 LDHS highlights the country’s great progress in health facility births, family planning use, and child survival, HIV prevalence among adults age 15-49 is a staggering 25%. Not surprisingly, this was the only topic that received any press coverage following the June 15, 2016, LDHS national seminar.

Many Basotho, including those representing the Ministry of Health and agencies that provide HIV-related funding and program assistance, had been hoping to see a decline in HIV prevalence relative to 2009, the last time for which a national HIV prevalence estimate had been released. However, the 2014 data indicate that nationally, the prevalence has remained stable, while among women it has increased from 27% in 2009 to 30% in 2014.

Some stakeholders saw optimism in these figures:  a higher HIV prevalence may be the result of more HIV-positive women receiving anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy, and thereby surviving much longer than they would have without ARVs.  But of course, higher prevalence can also be due to more new infections. The LDHS also tested blood samples for HIV incidence, and these data were published as part of the Final Report for the first time ever in a DHS survey. The 2014 LDHS reports an HIV incidence rate of 1.9 new infections for every 100 person-years of exposure. In other words, for every 100 people, there is an average of 1.9 new infections per year. Despite prevention efforts, new infections are indeed entering the population.

There is still good news in the HIV community in Lesotho. Voluntary testing programs are far-reaching:  more than 80% of women and 60% of men in Lesotho have ever tested for HIV and received the results, up from 66% of women and 37% of men in 2009. Eighty percent of women who gave birth in the two years before the survey received HIV counseling during antenatal care, and 79% also were tested for HIV and received the results.

The positive effects of voluntary medical male circumcision are also demonstrated by the 2014 LDHS data:  only 14% of men who were medically circumcised tested positive for HIV compared to 21% among those were not circumcised or were traditionally circumcised only.

The 2014 LDHS has 17 chapters.  Only 2 of them are about HIV. And yet, it’s very hard to get attention on child mortality, nutrition, gender issues, or family planning when 25% of the adult population has HIV. And HIV does not exist in a vacuum; it affects the health of this country in many indirect ways as well. Child mortality is affected by children’s HIV status, as well as the status of their parents; HIV prevention behaviors must be considered within the lens of gender issues; and family planning cannot be separated from HIV education.

So despite the progress made in maternal and child health, the headlines are fair:  HIV is the predominant health concern in Lesotho. Continued development in all sectors of Lesotho is contingent upon the management of the HIV crisis. But if the reaction to the 2014 LDHS is any indication, stakeholders in Lesotho are poised to make data-driven decisions and to further mobilize resources to change the course of health in Lesotho.

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29 Jun

Strengthening Afghanistan’s Health Sector: Evidence from the 2015 Afghanistan DHS

Dr. Ferozuddin Feroz (left), Sayed Alam Shinwari, Micheal Kugelman, and Larry Sample at The Wilson Center's Event, "A Good Diagnosis for Afghanistan: Strengthening the Health Sector"

Dr. Ferozuddin Feroz (left), Sayed Alam Shinwari, Michael Kugelman, and Larry Sampler at The Wilson Center’s Event, “A Good Diagnosis for Afghanistan: Strengthening the Health Sector”

Working in collaboration, two Afghan government organizations– the Central Statistics Organization and the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) – conducted Afghanistan’s first Demographic and Health Survey (AfDHS). “This in itself is an enormous milestone,” said Larry Sampler, Assistant to the Administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at USAID during a panel discussion at the Wilson Center, “A Good Diagnosis for Afghanistan: Strengthening the Health Sector.” Sampler, joined by the Afghanistan Minister of Public Health, Dr. Ferozuddin Feroz; Sayed Alam Shinwari, President of the Afghan Medical Professionals Association of America; and Michael Kugelman, Senior Associate for South Asia at The Wilson Center highlighted the implications of the Afghan government’s efforts to improve maternal and child health as demonstrated in the newly released 2015 AfDHS Key Indicators Report (KIR).

AfDHS-KIROf particular interest to both the MOPH and USAID, AfDHS results show progress in reducing childhood mortalityCurrently, about 1 in 20 children does not survive until their 5th birthday in Afghanistan. The majority of these childhood deaths occur during the first year of life. Compared to earlier time periods, both infant and under-five mortality have declined, suggesting that child health interventions are making a difference. Dr. Feroz explains, “The DHS survey shows that there is substantial improvement in maternal health and child health. This progress has been made through high-level commitments, a productive work environment with development partners as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local NGOs, scaling up of cost effective and lifesaving interventions across the country, training of midwives, as well as attention to equity and those living in remote areas.”

“The DHS survey demonstrates how far the Afghan public health sector has come and also how far it has to go,” stated Larry Sampler. What are the challenges of Afghanistan’s health sector? “Afghanistan still faces instability and insecurity, poverty, unemployment, the few number of midwives or health staff across the country,” explains Dr. Feroz. But in spite of these challenges, the Afghan MOPH is developing a national strategy for the next five years. “We will use this recent survey as a baseline to measure progress – to increase access to remote areas, improve the quality of services, introduce cost-effective interventions, and focus on equity issues.”

Dr. Fred Arnold of The DHS Program with Dr. Ferozuddin Feroz, Afghanistan Minister of Public Health

Dr. Fred Arnold (left)  of The DHS Program with Dr. Ferozuddin Feroz, Afghanistan Minister of Public Health

The survey covered topics including fertility and family planning, maternal and child health, childhood and maternal mortality, nutrition, malaria, HIV knowledge, and other health issues. The KIR is a short report of key indicators from the 2015 AfDHS that is meant to provide important data in a timely fashion to program managers and policy makers. Additional indicators such as the maternal mortality ratio will be included in the AfDHS Final Report, scheduled for release in late 2016.

To learn more about the Woodrow Wilson Center’s event, watch “A Good Diagnosis for Afghanistan: Strengthening the Health Sector” or visit the Wilson Center’s website.

The 2015 Afghanistan Demographic and Health Survey (2015 AfDHS) was implemented by the Central Statistics Organization and the Ministry of Public Health from June 15, 2015, to February 23, 2016. The funding for the AfDHS was provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). ICF International provided technical assistance through The DHS Program, a USAID-funded project providing support and technical assistance in the implementation of population and health surveys in countries worldwide.

18 May

Building Awareness of the Link between Fistula and Gender-Based Violence

Genital fistula, an abnormal hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder that causes urinary or fecal incontinence, is a devastating, preventable condition that no woman should have to endure. It usually results from inadequately managed, prolonged or obstructed labor, surgical error, or trauma [1, 2].  Although rare, it can be completely debilitating—physically, socially, and economically—particularly to women who live in remote areas without access to treatment; women with fistula are often shunned from the household or society, which can cause immense suffering  [3].

While sexual violence can cause traumatic fistula, the vulnerable state of women with fistula gives reason to suspect that the risk of violence could also increase after the onset of fistula [4, 5, 6], though no studies have attempted to evaluate this to date.  Moreover, because it is so rare, it is difficult to capture statistically significant associations with the condition.

The DHS Program provides an opportunity to study such rare events because of the inclusion of standardized questions in numerous, nationally-representative  surveys with large sample sizes. In a study conducted to further examine the relationship between fistula and violence, data were pooled from 12 DHS surveys, 11 conducted in Sub-Saharan African countries and one in Haiti, where standardized modules (sets of questions) on the two topics were included.

In total, 90,276 women were included in the analysis.  Among these women, the prevalence of self-reported symptoms of fistula ranged from 0.4% to 2.0%.  Regression analyses confirmed an association with sexual violence: women who have experienced sexual violence, both ever as well as within the 12 months preceding the survey, have almost twice the odds of reporting symptoms of fistula. Although there are no questions posed on timing of onset of symptoms of fistula in the DHS, the association with lifetime as well as recent experience of sexual violence suggests that violence could occur both before as well as after fistula’s onset.

One other finding of interest was that women whose first experience of sexual violence was committed by a non-partner had over four times the odds of reporting symptoms of fistula than women who did not report sexual violence.  Although inferences from these findings can only be made with caution, the temporality relationship between fistula and sexual violence deserves further investigation.

In light of International Day to End Fistula on May 23, it is imperative to continue to work towards minimizing occurrence of fistula by building awareness around conditions that contribute to and result from this morbidity. This study shows yet another disheartening correlation between gender-based violence and poor health outcomes for women. It provides even more impetus for training and sensitivity for women’s health care providers in this area.

full studyA poster presentation of the study was exhibited at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America (PAA) in Washington DC. More information can be found in this poster.

 

 

 


  1. Longombe AO, Claude KM, Ruminjo J. Fistula and traumatic genital injury from sexual violence in a conflict setting in Eastern Congo: case studies. Reprod Health Matters. 2008 May;16(31):132-41
  2. Raassen TJ, Ngongo CJ, Mahendeka MM. Iatrogenic genitourinary fistula: an 18-year retrospective review of 805 injuries. Int Urogynecol J. 2014 Dec;25(12):1699-706.
  3. Baloch, B.A., A. Salam, D. ZaibUnnisa, and H. Nawaz. 2014. Vesico-Vaginal Fistulae. The Professional Medical Journal, 21(5), 851-855.
  4. ACQUIRE. 2006. Traumatic gynecologic fistula: A Consequence of Sexual Violence in Conflict Settings. A report of a meeting held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, September 6-8, 2005. New York, The ACQUIRE Project/EngenderHealth.
  5. Peterman A, Johnson K. Incontinence and trauma: sexual violence, female genital cutting and proxy measures of gynecological fistula. Soc Sci Med. 2009 Mar;68(5):971-9.
  6. Naved RT, Blum LS, Chowdhury S, Khan R, Bilkis S, Koblinsky M. Violence against women with chronic maternal disabilities in rural Bangladesh. J Health Popul Nutr. 2012 Jun;30(2):181-92.

 

27 Apr

The Vaccination Landscape: Changes and Challenges

What was the last vaccination you received? The one before that? When did you receive them?  Where was the vaccine administered – your arm? Your thigh? The right or the left? For most of us, this is not easy information to remember. And yet it’s what we ask many women to recall for their children in DHS interviews.

A child in Lhoksemawe, Aceh, Indonesia, receives a vaccine injection.

© 2012 Armin Hari/INSIST, Courtesy of Photoshare

Since 1984, The DHS Program has collected data on vaccinations in over 80 countries.  During this time, the vaccination landscape has changed dramatically. Initially, BCG, DPT (Diphtheria; Pertussis, or whooping cough; and Tetanus), Polio, and Measles were the only childhood vaccines most countries administered. These data were collected only from vaccination cards.

As time went on, our methodology expanded to include data collection from mother’s recall to clarify incomplete vaccination cards. In cases where there is no vaccination card, mothers are asked whether or not her child received each type of vaccine and the number of doses.

Today, the number of vaccines standardly administered is much higher. This is good news — it means millions more lives saved — but it introduces data collection challenges.

The vaccination data collected in a standard DHS questionnaire are far more elaborate than any time in our history: BCG remains; for Polio a birth dose is added; DPT is now combined into a pentavalent vaccine with Hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib); 3 doses of a pneumococcal vaccine and 3 doses of a rotavirus vaccine are now included; and the measles vaccine has been replaced with a measles combination vaccine. For countries that are transitioning between vaccination schedules or have more complicated schedules, the landscape becomes more challenging to navigate.

Data collection is relatively straightforward when a child has an up-to-date and complete vaccination card.  But in many cases, changing vaccine schedules and inconsistent record-keeping render the cards incomplete or unclear. Worse, vaccination cards are often missing or otherwise unavailable.

Indeed, a recent study revealed that in 4 of the 10 countries with the largest birth cohorts that had carried out either a DHS or MICS survey in 2010-2013, less than 50% of children had home-based vaccination records.

A happy mother shows her child's vaccination card in New Delhi, India.

© 2012 Bhupendra/MCHIP, Courtesy of Photoshare

When a vaccination card is unavailable, it is the mother who is expected to fill in the gaps.  But a mother’s recall is not 100% reliable. Keeping track of vaccines for multiple children and for combination vaccines is challenging enough, but even more so if the mother isn’t present for every vaccination event.

Knowing whether newer and existing vaccines are reaching their target population and doing so on schedule is valuable information to many. What can be done to maintain and even improve data quality when the complexity of the data needs on vaccine coverage continue to grow?

The DHS Program, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other experts in the field, are pursuing several options. One involves visiting health facilities to compare the information collected during the interview to the vaccination information recorded at the health facility.

This process has been used previously in Central Asian countries and in Albania, where facility-based documentation is strong. It is now being pilot-tested in Ethiopia; however, the method of record-keeping varies by location and includes instances where records are kept based on the date of visit and not based on the child’s name or date of birth. Country-specific challenges such as these require additional flexibility and coordination between survey implementers, Ministries of Health, and health facilities.

There is unlikely a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenge of accurately measuring vaccination coverage.  But from the perspective of global health, this is a good problem to have.  More children worldwide are being protected from a host of illnesses.  We are proud to be sharing data to help track progress towards closing the gap as our implementing partners reach more children with a larger variety of vaccines.

13 Apr

How Many Demographers Does It Take to Make a Great Visualization?

How much time do you budget to create a data visualization?  The best visualizations, though they appear to be simple and clear, are often the result of dozens of attempts.

Demographers spend countless hours crunching data and preparing journal submissions, but not all take full advantage of data visualization, either in their exploratory analysis, or in communication of their findings.  Last month, data visualization enthusiasts met at the Population Reference Bureau for a hands-on workshop as part of the Population Association of America (PAA) Conference.  The 4 hour interactive workshop featured presentations from DC-based data viz expert Jon Schwabish, Dr. Tim Riffe, demographer at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR), Jonas Schoeley (MPIDR), and Dr. Audrey Dorelien of the Minnesota Population Center.  While each presenter had a unique focus, a common theme was clear:  your first draft visualization should never be your final visualization.  This lesson was put into practice as participants shared works-in-progress, received constructive feedback, and prepared “makeovers”.


Clara Burgert and I have been working on a visualization project for over a year.  The original was published last summer but we’ve been reworking it for a journal submission. Our colleagues at the data viz workshop provided constructive feedback, and we have made yet another round of changes. Some of the many stages of our chart “makeover” are presented below.

SAR12

Clara’s recently published analysis looks at 27 countries and 6 child health indicators. The goals of our visualization were to compare countries across these 6 indicators and to illustrate the inequity within countries, by highlighting the worst and best performing sub-national regions. While some countries have a very high measles vaccination prevalence, such as Tanzania, there are regions in Tanzania that are performing very poorly. Meanwhile, other countries have moderately good vaccination rates with very little variation among regions (like Rwanda). Our first real attempt at a publishable graphic looked like this:

indicators for journal

One of the challenges with this first graphic was that it didn’t use color very well. Clara needed to use color to distinguish between the 6 indicators in other places in the report, so we wanted to integrate that color scheme here for consistency. Simultaneously we realized that we could also simplify our use of color in this first draft: while we had originally plotted the red circle as the lowest region, the reader doesn’t need that color to know that that plot is the lowest- it’s obvious based on the axis and the left-to-right understanding of a numerical timeline. So we tried this:

indicators for journal with color coding

This color scheme worked better to unify the other graphics in the report, and we were feeling pretty good about it. But we still had a few concerns and questions:

  • Was it okay to have the axis for the stunting indicator and under-five mortality the same size as the others even though they aren’t at the same scale?
  • Was it okay that we were sorting lowest to highest, instead of ordering countries in a consistent way?
  • How should we handle ordering of the data when for 4 of our indicators, a high data value is “good”, like vaccination coverage, while for 2 of our indicators, a high data value is bad, like mortality?
  • Were there any formatting tweaks we could make to improve readability?

It was this version that was shared at the PAA data visualization workshop. Through the feedback of experts and colleagues, we made some final decisions:

  1. Change the axis of the stunting indicator to go to 100% so that it is consistent with the other percentages in the graphic. Some suggested that we move stunting and under-five mortality to a separate page to visually remind readers that the interpretation of these indicators is different (i.e., high values are bad). Ultimately, we decided that the layout of the 6 indicators was better for us in terms of publication, but agree that this is a trade-off and may confuse some less technical audiences.
  2. We decided to keep our sorting from low to high, as the main audience for this paper is looking at general trends, not for data for a specific country. However, reports by The DHS Program often have many audiences, and with that in mind, we created an additional graphic (not shown) that summarizes each of the indicators by country so that a stakeholder in Ghana can see his or her relevant data in one view, without searching for Ghana in each of the above graphics.
  3. Jon Schwabish had some quick and practical suggestions for making this graphic easier to read. His critique that it felt “heavy” resonated with us as the creators. He suggested thinning out the lines and substituting the big “X” marking the national average with a smaller circle.

6 indicators for journal April 4

There is a science to data visualization, but there is also a lot of subjectivity. Many solutions can be found only through trial and error. Often it takes time, several new sets of eyes, and dozens of drafts to settle on the best possible visualization for your data. While this is a big investment, there is growing evidence that it’s worth it. We are competing for just 1 or 2 minutes of our audience’s attention in a world filled with data and information. We hope to create a few visualizations that are worth stopping to explore.

 

30 Mar

Model Datasets to the Rescue

Have you ever wanted to start immediately working on a DHS dataset, but didn’t have a research topic? Or didn’t want to take the time to register for access? Well, The DHS Program now has the cure for all your data analysis woes!

The DHS Program has created model datasets so users can become familiar with datasets without having to register for access. These datasets have been created strictly for practice and do not represent any country’s actual data. Model datasets are based on the DHS 6 Questionnaire and Recode. They include data on all standard survey characteristics, as well as data on domestic violence, female genital cutting, adult and maternal mortality, and child labor.

You might be thinking, how can I use these datasets? Model datasets can be used for many different purposes, including:

  • Replicating standard final report tables
  • Practicing calculating complex indicators
  • Teaching statistical concepts and procedures

Team members from Nigeria participating in the 2016 Regional DHS/MIS Malaria Analysis Workshop

Recently, the model datasets were used in the 2016 Regional DHS/MIS Malaria Analysis Workshops in Uganda and Senegal. Since participants attending the workshop came from different countries with different DHS/MIS datasets, the curriculum and workshop exercises were standardized using the model datasets. After going through the model dataset examples, participants then worked with their country’s specific data to match numbers in the final report. This was a great way for facilitators to make sure everyone was mastering the skill before participants worked on their own country’s data.

Model datasets have already had a starring role in our sampling and weighting tutorial videos. Future videos will also feature the model datasets, allowing users to follow along with the examples in the tutorial with their own statistical program.

Visit the Model Datasets page on The DHS Program website for more information. Users can pick and choose which data files to download, as well as download the full set of final report tables and sampling errors to check their work. Again, unlike datasets for specific surveys, users do not need to register in order to gain access.

If you have recently used the model datasets we want to hear from you! Comment below or email modeldatasets@dhsprogram.com to share your experiences with the model datasets or how you plan on using them in the future. You can also post questions about the model datasets on the User Forum.

The information provided on this Web site is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

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