Visualizing Peace: PA-X Timelines and Map

This is the third post in a series of blogs about data visualizations of PA-X, a database of peace agreements created by the Political Settlements Research Programme at the University of Edinburgh.

The PA-X data visualizations are live! Visit Visualizing Peace to view peace agreements on interactive data visualizations grouped into two sections:

Agreements in Time and Space, for which I integrated my horizontal timeline with Mengting Bao’s map

Agreement Sequence Comparison, which contains the three vertical timelines I shared in my last post

Hovering over a peace agreement visualized on the timelines or map displays its details in the left sidebar. The details includes a link to a PDF of the peace agreement and a link to the agreement’s complete coding (the visualizations display eight categories that the Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP) chose out of hundreds with which they’ve coded each peace agreement).

For “Agreements in Time and Space,” the details also display a symbol that Bao created to represent peace agreements on the map. The symbol resembles a flower with eight petals, one for each category that a peace agreement addresses. The larger the petal, the more detail the agreement has about the category.

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 21.54.20
The left sidebar contains a clickable legend of the visualized categories. The selected peace agreement in this image addresses every category except “Power Sharing: Military.”

You can click an agreement on the timeline to enlarge its symbol on the map, and you can click an agreement on the map to highlight its line on the timeline.

For “Agreement Sequence Comparison,” the three vertical timelines have similar hover and click functionality. The difference is that clicking an agreement on a vertical timeline highlights it on any other vertical timeline where it’s visualized.

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 22.03.09
The United Nations and Iraq were both involved in the highlighted peace agreement (the white rectangles on the left and right timelines).

In my previous blog post I identified the ways the timelines are extensible, customizable, and shareable (the key characteristics from my initial PA-X blog post). The map upholds these characteristics in that:

When new agreements are added to PA-X, a new source data file can be created for the map that extends the visualization to the new agreements. The catch is that PA-X does not have latitude and longitude coordinates for an agreement’s location, so those would need to be assigned to each new agreement in the data file manually.

You can filter the map with the same filters as the horizontal timeline, customizing the visualization to your interests.

As the map is online, you can share the map with a link (you cannot yet export the map as an image – more on this later).

Reflecting on the purposes of the PA-X visualizations that PSRP helped me define at the start of the summer, I’m pleased to say I’ve created a website that fulfills those purposes. My final meeting with PSRP confirmed that the visualizations do:

1. Provide an overview of the data available in the PA-X database that entices people to engage with the data (so far it’s enticed PSRP researchers at least!)

2. Communicate research findings

3. Facilitate research of trends in peace processes across locations, across time, and across categories

4. Facilitate research of peace processes in a specific location or time

That being said, there are many ways the “Visualizing Peace” website could be improved. To name a few…

The user experience could be more intuitive through direct interactions with the visualizations that replace the filters in the left sidebar. For example, instead of selecting start and end years from dropdown lists, users could use their mouse to zoom in and out of the horizontal timeline.

The website URL could record filter selections so that users could send a weblink to the exact version of the visualizations that they create. Due to time constraints I was unable to implement this feature over the summer.

The map could load more quickly. Though I was able to make some improvements to the speed at which the map loads during the last month of my internship, the number of graphics to load with D3.js ( 9 for the symbol multiplied by 1,518 agreements, plus the map graphic) makes the initial load and filtering of “Agreements in Time and Space” slow.

PSRP would like to continue visualization projects with PA-X data so perhaps in the future I’ll have the opportunity to implement some of these improvements myself!

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