Understanding Open Data:

Exploration Canvas

A new way to explore the portal's data

A new visual interface on the Nova Scotia Open Data Portal is ready for you to try! The Exploration Canvas can be used for data exploration, data shaping, basic descriptive statistics, and creating derived views. The user-friendly interface is available for most datasets and makes it easy to gain insights while interacting with the data on the portal.

Why use the Exploration Canvas?

The Exploration Canvas makes exploring the data to gain meaningful insight easy and efficient, regardless of your technical skill level. Datasets come in all sizes and can contain a lot of useful data. But all the data may not be useful to the task at hand. Filtering and "shaping" the data lets you temporarily hide some of the data, allowing you to focus on the data you want to see. You can also group and aggregate data to help extract descriptive statistics without the need to export the data for analysis elsewhere.
You may use the Exploration Canvas to, for example,
  • explore traffic volumes on the portal, focusing on one stretch of road in Nova Scotia;
  • find out what year saw the highest number of prospective immigrants in your county; or
  • calculate the average amount of grant funds allotted to organizations for green house gas reductions.
In all of these cases, you can use the Exploration Canvas to filter (i.e., show only data of interest), shape (e.g., exclude columns, sort), and calculate descriptive statistics (e.g., count, average, standard deviation) to help you gain insights. If you are logged into the Open Data Portal, you can save your work and come back to it later; these "derived views" are private and not visible to the public.

Let's get started!

To access the Exploration Canvas, simply click "View Data" at the top of the Primer page of a dataset.
Click "View Data" at the top of the Primer page of a dataset to use the Exploration Canvas.


The Exploration Canvas has two main components: the data table and the Visual Query Editor (VQE).
In the data table, you can scroll through the data side to side and up and down. For larger datasets, there may be multiple pages you can toggle through.
Use both the Data Table and Visual Query Editor to explore and shape the data.

Data Table

Within the data table, click the three dots to the right of a column name. You can choose to filter and sort the data, change the order of the columns, group and aggregate the data, and exclude columns from your query. 

Visual Query Editor

Bypass the data table and do all of your data querying directly in the Visual Query Editor. Select the filter, group and aggregate, and column manager icons on the bottom left to shape the data and calculate descriptive statistics.

Exploration Canvas Use Examples

Traffic volumes

To find the annual average daily traffic (AADT) of a single stretch of highway, you can use the filter to select a highway, section description, and other parameters for your query. This Traffic Volumes dataset has over a dozen of columns, but by using the column manager, columns unnecessary for your purposes can be hidden and remaining columns sorted. The results of this query indicate that the AADT went up over a two year period.

Prospective immigrants

Prospective immigrants to Nova Scotia indicate their intended county of residence when completing their application for a permanent resident visa. To find out what year saw the highest number of prospective immigrants in Cape Breton county, filter the County Where Nominees Intend to Settle dataset by county and then sort number of nominees by descending order. The results of this query indicate that more immigrants indicated they intended to reside in Cape Breton in 2021 than in any other year (query includes years 2012 to 2021).

Funding granted

The Low Carbon Communities Grant Recipients dataset shows the amount of funds given to organizations to create long-lasting greenhouse gas reductions. To calculate the average amount awarded to organizations over a fiscal four year period (2018/19 to 2021/22), the data was aggregated by Amount Awarded by Program with "average of rows" selected as the calculation.

Save your work!

Anyone can sign up for an account with the Nova Scotia Open Data Portal. Once signed up, you can sign in and save your work so you can return to it later. You can "publish" your work, which will allow you to create visualizations based on your derived views, however anything published or in draft will be kept private and will not be viewable by the public.
Trick: The URL captures all the exploration parameters you set while using the Exploration Canvas. By saving or sharing that URL, you can return to the unsaved view later or allow someone else to see what you have done without having to sign into the portal.

Further resources

For more information on the Exploration Canvas, see Exploration Canvas for Open Data. For further guidance on understanding data and increasing your basic data skills, see the Working with Data series and Understanding Open Data: The Citizen's Guide.
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