Decision Theater paints intelligent data landscapes

ASU's decision theater is the ultimate tool for making the tough choices

Chances are, anyone who’s spent the better part of an hour wandering around Tempe has seen campus shuttles plastered with decals lauding ASU's achievements in innovation. Chances are, they don't have a real idea of how the University earned this award.

“In the next 10 minutes, you will know what that means,” Kena Fedorschak, one of the project managers at the ASU Decision Theatre, an 8000-square-foot data visualization environment, said. 

At the center of Fedorschak's explanation is a piece of equipment called "the Drum". 

via GIPHY

The Drum is a circular meeting room that sits at the center of the facility, surrounded by offices. 

The seating is modular, and variable depending on the purpose of the meeting. If that sounds bland, it's because it is not the defining feature of the room. Seven displays surround the perimeter, working in tandem with one another on a shifting array of visuals.

On this occasion, the screens displayed a continuous desert landscape inhabited by floating data points and captions related to the state budget. 

This entire presentation, along with the others that the Decision Theater has created for its clients, works on top of a "complex system framework" that the staff developed on their own.

"The reason why we created it in-house is we tried to look for some software package that does this, and we weren't able to find it," Rahul Salla, the theater's director of software development, said. "What it allows us to do is recreate disparate research efforts across multiple disciplines and create holistic, beautiful views for decision making."

Decision Theater paints intelligent data landscapes from The State Press on Vimeo. Video by Jordan Evans.

The team at the Decision Theater works extremely closely with ASU faculty, motivated by changing priorities in research funding and processes. 

“The incentives for professors are shifting from publishing in your little niche, to transdisciplinary efforts," Fedorschak said. "Why? To bring money in. Dr. Crow took over ASU in 2002, before that … the amount of sponsored research was ballpark $80 million. Today, it’s $540 million." 

Essentially, the Decision Theater helps professors to get these contracts, displaying their data in the clearest and most engaging way possible. How they do this, though, is more than just a simple formula. Fedorschak asserted that it is a culture.

"Do you watch football?" he asked. 

The programmer proceeded to relate the events of the previous night's game, the Houston Texans versus the New England Patriots. He said that, even with their top two quarterbacks off of the field, the Patriots "stomped the Texans."

Fedorschak's metaphor hinges on Bill Belichik, the Patriots' coach.

"He puts creative, smart processes together, and everyone's on the same page," he said. "The culture of an organization, the process, the methodology and the ways that challenges are approached, that determines your success."

The Decision Theater aims its culture and vision at a single goal.

"We don't make any decisions here," said Fedorschak. "We just make really informed decision makers."


Reach the reporter at sdeadric@asu.edu or follow @deadrick_sam on Twitter.

Reach the videographer at jevans29@asu.edu or follow @jordan_evans_16 on Twitter.

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