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.