Compu-Graphics to Visual Analytics: 80s and after

After the Indo-French Compu-Graphics and Planning Project was over in 1985, I moved back to France as a Technical Counsellor to the Cabinet of the Minister for Cooperation, to develop, with Luc de Golbéry, a Visual Decision Support Information System in “Cellule de Synthèse et d’Information Rapide – CSIR”[1], a Unit for Synthesis and Rapid Information, to help the Minister’s counsellors analyse information about Franco-African cooperation. Only to discover how much graphic processing and maps – neutral, possibly exhaustive and transparent – disturb the ministerial antechambers accustomed to discretion. We were asked to not show and circulate our documents. Visual output was considered dangerous, too effective?

French Public Aid: How Much and Where? Plotter output

After the change in government the information cell was dismantled. I was offered a post in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but doing something else than analysing and visualising data. I realised that what interested me in life was analysing data with a purpose of serving the most deprived. I decided to start my own company, Decision Graphics, in Paris. I did all the subsequent work from that structure till 2005, when I create a company in India, in Hyderabad, GMIS Consultants.

UNESCO asked me to participate in their training package “Government Information Systems and Socio-Economic Data”, using the materials developed in India and in Sri Lanka to prepare the module 6 (Maps and Graphics: Tools for Statistical Processing) and 7 (Geocoding and Information Systems) for the Intergovernmental programme for co-operation in the field of scientific and technological information, UNISIST- World Science Information System.

Thierry Gaudin, head of the “Centre de Prospective et d’Evaluation”, Ministère de la Recherche et de la Technologie, France, asked me to build a world data base from 1960 to 1985 with projections to 2100 and prepare graphic analysis and outputs for the publication “2100, récit du prochain siècle, Payot, Paris 1990”[2]. This experience, working with challenging young graphic designers, changed my way of preparing visual output, from academic black and white to using colours in a very unconventional way for academics.

Initial “academic output
Final output in the book

Between 1990 and 1997, I worked in France with different local bodies, developing decentralized micro-GMIS for local level democratic management, planning and decision making. The scale varied from a region (Normandie in France: 3250 villages and towns, 240 “cantons” similar to mandals/teshils, 5 districts) to a group of 100 “communes” or panchayats in 6 “cantons”. The work was an iterative one, involving preparation of visual analysis and communication documents presenting a spatial diagnosis to help build future scenarios, that were presented in group discussion with the local stakeholders. This exercise implied simplifying and communicating complex information, without over-simplifying and caricaturising, and with enough clarity to spark discussions. This experience was partly successful, at local level, with the group of 100 “communes” who used the visual output in different meetings. I recollect one particular instance when there was a heated discussion for close to one hour between two communes before they finally came to discuss scientific arguments and action plan. The power of maps is to make visible and unmistakable issues that are otherwise hidden under emotional layers of untold resentment. But at a higher level the reception was colder. The maps and other visual output were too telling, hence judged dangerous, and I was asked to consider them strictly confidential[3].

The controversial maps showing contrasted evolution and reversal trends between two communes

In 1996, I met Mr Smarajit Ray, IAS, Principal Secretary in charge of Social Welfare, and I proposed to apply the methodology and experience developed with local bodies in France to the Ministry of Tribal Welfare and Girijan Cooperative Corporation (GCC) of Andhra Pradesh. We applied it to monitor Public Distribution System, Minor Forest Products procurement and Agricultural Loans, through an IFAD project. It brought to light the delays and the Manager could focus on the areas of concern more quickly. The tool developed was combining GIS (geographical information system) and MIS (management information system so I coined the term GMIS combining both into a single system. The Managing Director of GCC, Suresh Chanda, IAS, was keen to show the tool to Chandra Babu Naidu, then chief minister. This proved to be a disaster, as the CM, instead of focusing on the tool and how it would be used, focused on the particular delays and mistakes visible on the maps and was very critical of the IAS officer in front of every one. This discouraged him to pursue the experiment.

My work was then noticed by the IAS secretary of the A.P. Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society. He asked me to develop a visual tool to monitor school infrastructure, school performances, building of schools, location of new schools. For the latter, the A.P. government had sanctioned the creation of 40 new boarding schools. The question was a) to distribute between boys and girls and b) where to locate them. It was assumed that there should be a) an equal number of schools for boys and for girls and b) an equal number per district to ensure equity. But after analysing a) the literacy level, and particularly the social and gender gaps in literacy, and b) the location of existing schools, it was decided to correct the noticed imbalances. It was decided a) to create mostly schools for girls and b) to create more schools in Telangana where the existing schools were much less. To get the approval from the CM the administrator prepared the file with maps and gave them to the CM just before he left for a helicopter trip that would allow him to spend one hour free of calls and disturbance. The CM came out of the helicopter approving of the project. And every time I pass in front of the SC Residential School of Dindi, a very poor area, I feel proud to have contributed to its location, that would otherwise have been missed. [4]

Female Literacy Rates

Back in France I worked on a project for restoring the maritime character of Mont-Saint-Michel, registered since 1979 on the UNESCO world heritage list, located between Bretagne and Normandie, for the “Agence de l’Eau”, Water Management Board, and “Mission du Mont-Saint-Michel”, Ministère de l’Equipement (R&B). I helped prepare atlases for the five water basins around Mount Saint-Michel. 1997-2000

Teaching in Master TRIAD 2002 and in India different projects.

In 1999, my husband, Luc de Golbéry, was contacted by a senior IT consultant, Jean-François Rossato, who had visited us in Hyderabad during the Indo-French Compu-Graphics and Planning Project. He had been sent as an independent auditor to evaluate our project, with the intention to close it. Instead he concluded his mission by writing that our project was very innovative, should continue and the budget should be doubled. He was now working as a consultant to SNCF (the French Railways). And SNCF had a problem that they did not know how to solve. The government had opened the electricity market for industrial users in 2000. SNCF needed to forecast their electricity consumption for every hour of the entire year. They had tried during the first three quarters of 1999 but failed to get satisfactory results. My husband was taken aback as SNCF is full of high level engineers, and replied to Jean-François that he did not know how he could do better than a group of X-Pont engineers. But he gave me the phone and I told Jean-François “if you think they have a need that they are not able to fulfil and you think that the methods that we have developed and you have seen in Hyderabad are useful we can try”. This was the beginning of a seventeen-year collaboration with SNCF as the forecast accuracy that we obtained was excellent and puzzled the engineers of EDF (the French Electricity Board).

I had put a condition to my work with SNCF: I should be allowed to go to India twice a year for two months each time. Although they did not like it much they agreed as the very good forecast results saved them millions of euros. I started working with the Ministry of Rural Development on a DFID project, Andhra Pradesh Rural Livelihood Project, on watershed development integrating physical and financial components as well as impact analysis. Building up of periodical dashboards, with a participatory approach, for stakeholders and decision makers at sub-district, district and state level. I started working with Sanjay Gupta, an IFS officer, posted in Kurnool as the Watershed Programme Director. This was the beginning of a long collaboration, where we started developing visualisation for participatory development programmes. We worked for two main groups, the women Self-Help Groups (SHG), and the Water User Associations (WUA). This led to the development of visual posters for communicating with the stakeholders and giving them tools for comparison with other groups to know where they stand.

In 2005, the IAS officer in charge of the programme, Mr S.P. Tucker, was then posted as Principal Secretary Irrigation, and asked me to develop a GMIS for Andhra Pradesh Irrigation and Command Area Development. As he had been posted earlier in the driest district of the state, Anantapuram, he thought that focussing on bringing irrigation where it was missing, should be the policy that would correct the geographical imbalances. We analysed water related indicators and prepared diagnosis with related risks and potentials. The analysis showed results quite different from the pre-conceived and intuitive ideas of the Secretary. In particular, the Telangana region, which has a relatively high level of irrigation, draws most of its water from underground, with large over-exploitation, indicating unsustainability. It was not sufficient to look at where and how much water, but from which source and for what crop. This led to the creation of a commission to redefine the water policy of the state to include water management, efficiency and sustainability[5]. Looking at potentials we realised that most of the areas with high potential where located in the Tribal Areas. A special Tribal plan was prepared to create new irrigation tanks, and renovate those which had been damaged. All the above material became the base for a water atlas, “Water resources of Andhra Pradesh”, jointly published by IWMI-Tata Water Policy Program (ITP), International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and Visual Information Systems for Action (VIStA), released in 2011[6]. It became the model for the national India Water Resources Information System (WRIS).[7]

In 2008 I was contacted by Mrs Chaya Ratan, IAS, Principal Secretary Women and Child Welfare, to develop a localised (Telugu) GMIS for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Dept. of Women & Child Welfare, Govt of Andhra Pradesh.[8] The paradigm shift was to place the Anganwadi worker (AWW), the local woman in charge of village women and child welfare, at the centre of the system. Instead of building a traditional monitoring system, that would collect data from the AWW for the benefit of their hierarchy without any useful feedback for her, it was decided to develop a management tool that would provide her with her monthly prioritised task. The first challenge was to develop a computer system in the local language, Telugu, with 52 characters and many combinations, requiring sometime three simultaneous clicks. Instead of using the keyboard, we developed a monitor visual input system, based on the primary school alphabet.

Telugu alphabet displayed on the monitor

The second challenge was to assume that the AWW, most of them with a level of education below 10th class, could use a computer without difficulties. The software was developed to look like the registers habitually filled by the AWW. We developed a training programme based on playful exercises for small children to brake their apprehension. At the end of the first day of training the AWW was able to enter the list of children and mothers. The visual tables that came as output, were immediately understood by the AWW and became a support material for the supervisors. The pilot project was identified as a potential good practice by the central government[9] and received a national award for e-Governance.[10] Unfortunately, although it had been decided to scaled up the pilot project in the entire state, the Principal Secretary, having a disagreement with her Minister, was shifted to another post. The new Secretary did not take up the scaling up. This is typical of the Indian administration, where there is little continuity in actions undertaken by the predecessor and brought forward by the successor (called by IAS officers themselves “successor-predecessor syndrome”!).

In 2012, I started worked for the Andhra Pradesh State Development and Planning Society (APSDPS), Vision 2029 Management Unit (VMU), Planning Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh, as analytics support to the Think Tank entire team of about 30 high qualified professionals from renowned institutes (IIM, ISB, TISS, MANAGE).

Anne Chappuis, born in 1948, PhD (Tropical Geography) 1979. She has spent 49 years in India with 5 years of extensive field work and 44 years work with Andhra Pradesh Government. She is among the early pioneers of visual analytics and started visual data analysis in the seventies. She has in France and in India for local bodies and decision makers on development issues and helped diagnose the problem through maps, graphs and visual matrix, identify similarities and proximities, or oppositions, go from diagnosis to identification of risks and opportunities to develop future strategies and plans.

Ed. Pranav Sharma is a science historian and the curator of the History of Indo-French Scientific Partnership Project




[3]AUX CARTES CITOYENS, LA DÉMOCRATIE PAR LES CARTES, Anne Chappuis, Luc de Golbéry, Laboratoires MTG et LEDRA, Université de Rouen Cybergeo : Revue européenne de géographie – Cybergeo accueille, n°150, 17 novembre 2000

[4] AUX CARTES CITOYENS, LA DÉMOCRATIE PAR LES CARTES, Anne Chappuis, Luc de Golbéry, Laboratoires MTG et LEDRA, Université de Rouen, in CFC (N°201 – Septembre 2009),

[5] Andhra Pradesh State Water Policy, 2008, Irrigation & CAD Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh

[6] Water Resources of Andhra Pradesh, Sanjay Gupta, Anne Chappuis, SP Tucker, IWMI-Tata Water Policy Program (ITP), International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and Visual Information Systems for Action (VIStA), 2011

[7] and GIS layers