Bringing local context to global data

Over the years the Resource Watch team has learned from our engagement with local NGOs, researchers and journalists across the world that often need local boundaries to be included in order to make global data layers more useful. In many cases, for data to be useful and actionable, it needs to be relevant and understandable on a local, regional, or national scale. We all have specific areas that we’re interested in — whether that be our home country, the city where we work, or region that we’re analyzing for a research report. Those areas provide critical context and relevance to the data we’re working with. Now, a new feature on Resource Watch allows you to bring your geographical context to our global data repository.

The new feature is the Areas of Interest tab on Explore. To see what it can do, let’s turn to Ana. Ana works on air quality policy in the city of Belo Horizonte, Brasil, in the state of Minas Gerais. Her job is to research and show how air pollution affects public health and climate change, so that policies can be put in place to reduce pollution. 

Your Area Of Interest: Now On The Map

Resource Watch hosts many datasets that Ana can use to investigate air quality — from near real-time satellite-derived concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (created by the burning of fuel) to annual sulfur dioxide emissions to station measurements of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) to the locations of power plants. When she would use this data in the past, Ana would create overlays and charts to show the relationship between these variables, but she was missing a critical component — the ability to contextualize this data within her home state. To do that, she would need to download the data and use it in a GIS program to clip the boundaries to show her area of interest. This can take a lot of time, technical expertise and potential licencing cost for specialised GIS software.

But with the new Areas of Interest feature on Explore, Ana can now show that boundary directly on the map within the Resource Watch platform.

ShareYour Areas With Others

It’s easy to create an Area of Interest. From Explore, click the Areas of Interest tab, click to add a new area, and then follow the instructions to either 1) draw an area directly on the map, 2) select a preset area, or 3) upload your own shapefile. Ana uploaded her own shapefile of the boundary of Minas Gerais and saved it as an area of interest.

By default, these areas are yours — they’re kept in your account for your exclusive use. But they can easily be made shareable, so Ana can share any maps she creates — along with the Minas Gerais boundaries — with her colleagues. On any area of interest, just click “Edit” and then “Make Public”. Now whenever you share a map when your area of interest is enabled, anyone you share it with will be able to see exactly what you’re seeing. 

Analyze Data Within Your Areas Of Interest

Visual overlays are great — but what Ana really wanted was to be able to analyze the data within her area of interest. With a new feature on the Resource Watch custom visualization creator, this is now possible. In Ana’s research, she’s investigating the fuel type and estimated generation of power plants in Minas Gerais. Using the Global Power Plant Database, she can add the state as a geographic filter in the custom visualization creator to create location-specific charts. 

Areas of Interest can be used as geographic filters to customize  the widgets you create, to show the information that’s relevant to you.

Some datasets have more than one layer you can graph. Choose the one you need and customize your widget to create the chart type that fits your needs. 

With these new updates on Resource Watch, Ana can now bring local context to the data she is using to develop more robust air quality policies. We hope you’ll find this new feature useful for your work as well. If you would like to share your feedback on this update or join any user testing conversations where we scope new features like this, send us an email at

Emily Nilson is a former Product Manager at Resource Watch 

Sergio Baldit is Communications Specialist at Resource Watch 

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