Career Profile: Marco Zaplan, Data & Information Visualisation Analyst, MZ Consulting

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Career profile

Marco studied for a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics at the University of the Philippines School of Economics. Marco is now a data and information visualisation analyst at MZ Consulting.

How did you get into your current line of work?

Right after graduation, I joined a small, fast-growing nonprofit organization working on good governance in the extractives sector called Bantay Kita. I was introduced to data work thanks to the Data Extractors Program initiated by our global coalition, Publish What You Pay. The international program introduced me to data skills, like-minded individuals from around the world, and many opportunities to apply data into our work. What kept me doing it is seeing local communities and decision-makers use data to forward their causes.

What does an average day involve in your job?

As a development consultant, I manage research and capacity-building projects covering multiple countries related to extractives data. The projects I manage envision a world where data informs public policy in resource-rich countries. For instance, I am working on an international project aimed at improving skills of various stakeholders to access, analyze, and apply extractives data and evidence in their countries. This involves coordination with actors at the international and national level and coming up with creative ideas to integrate use of data into their development interventions.

What sorts of data and data software skills do you need in your job?

I work on a wide range of data related to the mining, oil, and gas sectors. This includes economic, social, and environmental data. When I need to analyze and play around data, I use Excel for smaller datasets and Tableau for larger ones. Given the nature of my work where I need to collaborate with a lot of people on data, I use Google Sheets in storing datasets. Canva and Infogram are very useful come data visualization and storytelling. I use Tableau Desktop in designing interactive dashboards and maps. In choosing tools to learn and use, go for what’s relevant to (1) the challenge you’re trying to address and (2) the people who will benefit from your data products.

How and when have you developed your data skills so far?

Five years ago before I met open data and Tabula, I was encoding data from tables in pdfs. It’s not the most glamorous thing to do but it helped me gain domain knowledge and get to know the data we’re working with like the back of my hand. Working in a small non-profit org means you get to immerse yourself into different lines of work from research to advocacy to communications to capacity-building. Because of this, I learned various tools across the data value chain as I go. It was more of a demand-driven approach rather than following a supply-driven skills roadmap. For instance, I learned Tableau due to the growing number of datasets we’re working on and the need to make sense and integrate these datasets.

What advice would you give undergraduates aspiring to a data-related career in the global development sector?

We need more data storytellers to help ordinary citizens and other stakeholders to move towards a certain direction. We need people who can translate complex datasets into accessible, easily understandable, and actionable products such as dashboards, policy briefs, and infographics.

Changing the world with data is a complex initiative. Project management skills would be very useful to get things done and make sure tasks are well-thought and delivered, risks are managed, and results are evaluated.

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