Infographics from policy crowd

Don asks what the policy engaged outside the Political-Journalistic complex can do to improve public debate, implicitly envoking the role of blogs and other social media. So I’ve decided to post some of the ideas I’ve had on the odd chance that one of them might prove fruitful.

Today it was an idea that came when I read this post on government Infographics by Andrew Carr. He points out that consuming the information available takes a great deal of time, and thus “Most Australians, even the political class, take their information about government actions from news stories, simply because it’s quicker.” That’s a great reason for public servants and politicians to create and distribute them as Carr advocates.

…infographics may help us get past some of the ‘spin’ and repetitive talking points of our current malaise. Infographics are a quicker form of communication than words, they are better suited to digital communication, and, importantly they are much easier to fact check.

 

It’s also why third parties are keen on them, as with this ACTU example on the minimum wage. The PR spivs who provide content to media outlets are also fond of them.

Unfortunately governments, organisations like Unions, Think Tanks and non-profits and especially PR however all represent advocacy positions with agendas and self interests – after all, someone is paying the bills. Perhaps there’s a way infographics could come from the policy crowd of academics, bloggers and interested citizens. This wouldn’t just provide viewpoints from those without skin in the game (like blogs already do), it would also simply harness the knowledge that’s out there. Journalists, as human beings, don’t have the capacity to be across the vast range of policy areas that a good political discourse would cover – even if they had the resources or inclination. Infographics would provide a way for journalists to be better briefed when asking questions or reporting as well as being available for the engaged public. Matt Cowgill was startled by the reaction to a post outlining the income distribution in Australia. Maybe an infographic on the same data would have an even greater impact.

The problem of course  is that infographics are created by graphic designers, who are trained to do what they do. Someone in the policy crowd might want to offer their knowledge on an issue in an infographic but they wouldn’t be able to create one easily. Just a few weeks ago I was trying to give a plain English explanation on why compensation was possible with a carbon price to submit to The Drum. Miraculously as I was struggling with the final draft Jess Irvine did a great job on the same topic, but the ability to do an infographic would have been a blessing.

And even if making an inforgraphic was possible, where would be hosted?

The (probably implausible) hope I have is that we could form a non-profit site to host these so interested googlers would end up finding it in the same way they find the Kahn Academy. What I’d also hope is that  this site would have a way to make making infographics easy. A flash applet for instance, so users would be able to produce their knowledge in an easy to digest form.

The outcome might go something like this. A figure like Alan Davies who blogs frequently on High Speed Rail at the Melbourne Urbanist would likely want to some of his repeated caveats seep into the debate. As it stands, casual audiences probably don’t pick them up. If the infographic wiki existed he might be able to put them in a infographic digest using the applet, and a far wider audience, including journalists and others in the political class, might become aware of them and share the graphic via twitter.

However, I have no  idea how plausible such an InfoGraph Ezy TM applet is, or how such a wiki would get off the ground. But it’s an idea for a better debate.

 

 

7 thoughts on “Infographics from policy crowd

  1. I think this is a fantastic idea Richard. Establish a public interest Infographics wiki where individuals and organisations can post blegs for Infographics on topics dear to their hearts. That would hopefully attract good graphic artists to contribute Infographics on the topics that grabbed their attention in the same way that open source software attracts programmers to donate their time and skills. The key is creating something with a high enough profile to generate a social dynamic and create reputation and social kudos. Maybe it could be kicked off by making links with graphic arts departments at universities to promote among their student body. You could also possibly link it with a suitable freeware online eportfolio system so contributors can more easily achieve more direct potential employment benefits.

    I know that Nicholas Gruen is deeply involved in creating these sorts of collaborative public spaces, so I’ll forward this comment to him and see what happens (I’m supposed to be a beta tester for one of these initiatives but have so far been too deeply swamped in end of semester marking to pull my weight).

  2. Yes, a great idea Richard,

    I’ll send it around the traps and see if I can rustle up some enthusiasm for it. I can think of a few leads immediately.

  3. Very interesting!
    My experience (anecdotal “evidence” alert!!) is that there are different audiences for word based evideice and graphic based info. A combination of tabular, descriptive and graphical often seems like overkill, but sometimmes extends discussion as each different presentation may result in different highlights.
    Some infograhics for the web links – one exhuberant, one serious.
    http://www.gapminder.org/
    http://willarson.com/code/sparklines/sparklines.html

  4. That’s a fairly bad infographic you’ve got up there as an example – Edward Tufte (the inventor of sparklines) would denounce it in his usual acerbic style as “chartjunk” – stuff that actually hides information. BTW Tufte is a strong proponent of the line that serious attempts to convey information integrate words, tables and graphics.

    My beef is NOT that the content is spin (people supporting kids on the minimum wage usually get more than their actual wage in cash benefits and allowances from the government, for a start) – spin is to be expected. But the thing takes a lot of space to tell you what a sentence or two of real information would convey. Or better, you could give far more info and context in the same space using better graphics.

    Graphic designers trained to create eyecatching content-free bling to sell soap aren’t generally the best people for this stuff, where the problem is not catching eyeballs but getting relatively complex information across eyeballs with a low tolerance for complexity. You need people with Gapminder-type skills, not people who in another era would have been professional painters.

  5. Hi Richard

    A infographic wiki is a great idea.

    Even if initially filled with content by organisations with agendas, a crowd-sourced accuracy rating format could help ensure quality early on. Once it grows I’m sure graphic designers might be keen to see it as an avenue to display their work, with the policy crowd offering the stats (via a meet-up forum on the side to connect the two communities).

    Its worth noting that that search engines for graphics/tables are starting to appear such as Zanran, but a wiki with clear topics, an Australian focus and accuracy/usefulness ratings would be very helpful addition.

  6. @derrida derider
    Yeah – the specifics are not that good. Especially on the “pure Tufte” level (I have some understanding of his work).
    I wasn’t being very clear – the two examples were more that there are web-based tools & code available than any endorsement of the particular format!

    I think the advantage of the proposal is we can test what works (many and varied) and doesn’t, remembering that there are many audiences, not just one. I’m sure there will be plenty to deabte.

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