If you maintain a database of the work your organization does, then you need to be able to learn from that information and communicate about your data effectively. Data visualizations do this quickly and efficiently.
Development Seed, which helps organizations use data to explain complex issues and make better decisions, recently worked with [A Wider Circle](http://www.awidercircle.org/), a Washington D.C.-based non-profit that collects furniture and household goods and distributes them to families transitioning out of shelters or otherwise in need, to map its operations.
A Wider Circle uses a database to monitor its work, tracking how many beds, dressers, desks, tables, and other household goods they collect from donors and how many they give out. Their database was comprehensive, but it didn’t show the story of the work. It didn’t show who they were serving, or what they were providing.
Using [TileMill](http://tilemill.com/), an open-source map design studio, we turned their dataset from this:
![A Wider Circle’s data](http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6084/6125428252_b05161111b.jpg)
The [interactive map we made of A Wider Circle’s operations in D.C.](http://data.awidercircle.org/) very quickly shows exactly where the furniture is coming from, where it is most needed, how much is being redistributed, and which kind is in the most demand. Communicating the story of A Wider Circle’s work can now be done just by forwarding a link. Check out their work in the entire D.C. Metropolitan region [here](http://tiles.mapbox.com/awidercircle/#!/map/map_1313526664551).
On top of the communication wins from a visualization like this, mapping an organization’s work exposes areas for improvement in its general operations and monitoring. [Data.AWiderCircle.org](http://data.awidercircle.org/) shows the non-profit’s volunteers the neighborhoods they need to target with more information about their services, and helps them digest what furniture and goods to request from donors. It also makes clear how they can improve their internal tracking of services. Maintaining clean and consistent address columns, determining what aspects of data to highlight, and thinking about how different kinds of data relate to each other are all lessons learned from mapping a data set like this.
Creating maps like A Wider Circle’s is much easier and cheaper with emerging open-source technologies, like the [TileMill](http://tilemill.com/pages/index.html) map design studio we used to make it and which was partially funded by the Knight News Challenge.
Anyone willing to dive into some basic code (TileMill uses [Carto, a CSS-like language](http://developmentseed.org/blog/2011/feb/09/introducing-carto-css-map-styling-language)) and try out new technology can make custom maps like this. You can download TileMill at [TileMill.com](http://tilemill.com/), and find documentation on how to use it and a discussion forum for questions at [support.mapbox.com](support.mapbox.com).