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Title: Evaluation of Visual Analytics Environments: The Road to the Visual Analytics Science and Technology Challenge Evaluation Methodology

The evaluation of visual analytics environments was a topic in Illuminating the Path [Thomas 2005] as a critical aspect of moving research into practice. For a thorough understanding of the utility of the systems available, evaluation not only involves assessing the visualizations, interactions or data processing algorithms themselves, but also the complex processes that a tool is meant to support (such as exploratory data analysis and reasoning, communication through visualization, or collaborative data analysis [Lam 2012; Carpendale 2007]). Researchers and practitioners in the field have long identified many of the challenges faced when planning, conducting, and executing an evaluation of a visualization tool or system [Plaisant 2004]. Evaluation is needed to verify that algorithms and software systems work correctly and that they represent improvements over the current infrastructure. Additionally to effectively transfer new software into a working environment, it is necessary to ensure that the software has utility for the end-users and that the software can be incorporated into the end-user’s infrastructure and work practices. Evaluation test beds require datasets, tasks, metrics and evaluation methodologies. As noted in [Thomas 2005] it is difficult and expensive for any one researcher to setup an evaluation test bed so in many cases evaluationmore » is setup for communities of researchers or for various research projects or programs. Examples of successful community evaluations can be found [Chinchor 1993; Voorhees 2007; FRGC 2012]. As visual analytics environments are intended to facilitate the work of human analysts, one aspect of evaluation needs to focus on the utility of the software to the end-user. This requires representative users, representative tasks, and metrics that measure the utility to the end-user. This is even more difficult as now one aspect of the test methodology is access to representative end-users to participate in the evaluation. In many cases the sensitive nature of data and tasks and difficult access to busy analysts puts even more of a burden on researchers to complete this type of evaluation. User-centered design goes beyond evaluation and starts with the user [Beyer 1997, Shneiderman 2009]. Having some knowledge of the type of data, tasks, and work practices helps researchers and developers know the correct paths to pursue in their work. When access to the end-users is problematic at best and impossible at worst, user-centered design becomes difficult. Researchers are unlikely to go to work on the type of problems faced by inaccessible users. Commercial vendors have difficulties evaluating and improving their products when they cannot observe real users working with their products. In well-established fields such as web site design or office software design, user-interface guidelines have been developed based on the results of empirical studies or the experience of experts. Guidelines can speed up the design process and replace some of the need for observation of actual users [heuristics review references]. In 2006 when the visual analytics community was initially getting organized, no such guidelines existed. Therefore, we were faced with the problem of developing an evaluation framework for the field of visual analytics that would provide representative situations and datasets, representative tasks and utility metrics, and finally a test methodology which would include a surrogate for representative users, increase interest in conducting research in the field, and provide sufficient feedback to the researchers so that they could improve their systems.« less
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Journal Article
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Journal Name: Information Visualization, 13(4):326-335
Research Org:
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, WA (US)
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Country of Publication:
United States
evaluation; visual analytics