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Digesting Data: Howto.gov Informs on the Power of Data Visualization

This past Tuesday, October 9th, Howto.gov hosted a webinar about the use of info-graphics in the Federal government. During the webinar, they covered the basic definition of info-graphics, why their important, as well as some case studies on how they are being used. I realize we have been having this conversation for a while on Govloop, but there still aren’t oodles of graphics being divvied out to the public by the government. With all of the data that is available because of the push for open data in the Digital Government Strategy, there is a major lack of avenues for consumption of that data by the average American.

Panelists included:

Ali Allage is the CEO of Boost Labs, LLC

Wayne Kei, Chief of the Communications and Data Dissemination Section in the Statistics of Income (SOI) division, IRS

Audrey Buehring, Deputy Director, White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Earlene Dowell, Lead Technical Marketing and Training Consultant, Longitudinal-Employer Household Dynamics (LEHD) Program for the Center for Economic Studies of the U.S. Census Bureau

In it’s simplest form, Allage states, “data visualization is a graphic representation of data with the purpose of telling a story.” It needs to be “interesting, functional, and have integrity.” Personally, I prefer the definition of “a graphic representation of data with the purpose making a point.” The word “story” feels too subjective to represent hard data. Fellow Govloop member, touches on the most valuable aspect of data visualization: info-graphics’ efficacy is demonstrated by their ease of consumption. By engaging the reader with an info-graphic, there are higher retention rates and the consumer is likely to dig deeper into the subject matter, (rather than with just text alone).

Here are some resources and tips to get you started:

Allage recommended a few different tools to aggregate and analyze data. There is the free “r-project.org” which is an “integrated suite of software facilities for data manipulation, calculation and graphical display.” Then, there are the more commonly known Excel and google chart tools. Make sure you aggregate and synthesize compelling data, otherwise you are wasting your time on the entire endeavor. Boost Labs help make the AAPI’s “Objectives and Needs info-graphic, which is one of many they have created in efforts to make their issues more consumable.

Rei (with the IRS) mentioned that maintaining security and privacy have created unprecedented challenges with the shift to make data more widely available. He started by compiling and extracting valuable data. Then, he collaborated with the graphic design team (within his agency) to create an infographic to showcase in order to get buy-in from others.

Finally, Earlene Dowell with the Longitudinal-Employer Household Dynamics (LEHD) Program of the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrated the power of the data available at onthemap.ces.census.gov. With this tool, you can modify your search using customizable search tabs that display current census information. Interactive graphs and charts allow the user to extract needed information in a digestible and visual way.

Tip: Don’t attempt to create an info-graphic in software not meant for design. The infographic needs to be compelling and alluring. First, focus on gathering data and making a point, then collaborate with someone who has design experience (and the right software).

Once you’ve got buy-in from your agency…

How do you distribute graphics?

Blast on social media and agency website. Use google analytics to track clicks.

Print and hand out at events.

Print and sent out to community leaders across the nation to be distributed.


Ideas on the following?

How can we assess the impact the graphics are making? (beyond click-counting)

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