Notes from the Field

Visualizing Afghanistan: A Path to Open Data

November 16, 2011

In September, my colleague William Cole and I wrote about a revolution in data analytics that is affecting how many of us in the development field manage and analyze information. In that blog post, we expressed support for the growing open data movement that is an integral part of this transformational moment. So, with that in mind, in conjunction with the November 15 launch of The Asia Foundation’s 2011 Survey of the Afghan People, we released data from six years of public opinion survey research in Afghanistan in a machine-readable format, accessible to anyone with an interest in the data. Available for download at an interactive mapping and data visualization micro-site connected to The Asia Foundation website, Visualizing Afghanistan: A Survey of the Afghan People, presents data to anyone who wishes to explore, analyze, or republish it.

Visualizing Afghanistan

We are excited not only about the promise of “open data” but also because of the changes we see in how researchers and data scientists are handling and exploring large, open data sets. Data visualization and processing tools are coming into their own and further fueling the data revolution. In fact, some of these new and powerful tools for visualizing data are on display at Visualizing Afghanistan. We’ve structured the experience in such a way that users can intuitively explore key survey questions using Google Maps, move through six years of data, and disaggregate data in a variety of ways to see and analyze trends. Users can map responses by region, compare national or regional totals on a year-by-year basis, or expand and explore supplementary data.

The Open Data Movement, the notion that certain types of should data be “open” and available to all for analysis and evaluation, is an idea that’s creating new opportunities to strengthen development efforts across many fields. For The Asia Foundation, we see opportunities in areas like transparency, accountability, and good governance where open data can help enhance efforts to build more responsive and effective institutions of governance.

We developed Visualizing Afghanistan to bring even more accessibility to our survey data in Afghanistan. We invite you to have a look, download the data, and build your own visualization. If you do, please share it with us at We hope your own exploration of our data resources on Afghanistan sheds new light on a complex region.

John Karr is The Asia Foundation’s director of Digital Media. He can be reached at The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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