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Florence Nightingale: pioneer in statistics and data visualisation

Many people know Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) as the Lady of the Lamp in the Crimean War and founder of the world’s first secular nursing college at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London.

Less well known is that she was a leading statistician and pioneer in the visual presentation of information and statistical graphics.

Nightingale used charts and diagrams to communicate complex medical information to policymakers and lay audiences. She developed the Nightingale rose diagram (above), a forerunner of the histograms in use today, to illustrate seasonal causes of death in a military field hospital, enabling appropriate preventive measures to be taken.

Nightingale’s investigation into the effects of poor sanitation on the health of British army personnel in India led her to look at the population as a whole and she instigated a Royal Commission to look into the problem. Her comprehensive statistical study of sanitation in Indian rural life made her the most significant figure in improving public health in India in the period.

This is one of a series of stories about the impact of new thinkers, installed on the walls of the Islington head office of Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network.

Kasper de Graaf
Kasper de Graaf
Kasper is a writer and producer with wide experience of innovation in cities, industry and institutions. He has delivered innovation schemes in Vancouver, Istanbul, London, Manchester, Glasgow and numerous other cities. Kasper led the South Bank IQ research study about innovation in South London and co-authored the study ‘Creating a Manchester Design Manifesto’ with Lou Cordwell. He is a director of the design group Images&Co and the arts and culture organisation 2NQ, a steering board Member of the UK Design Action Plan ( and vice-chair of the Finsbury Park Trust. He has produced Design Manchester’s annual public debate about design and society since 2014 and chaired it since 2018. [Photo: Jake Bernard]


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