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    Trendy NAO: Visualising data

  • Posted on August 10, 2016 by

    If that is the case then we should scrap this post and turn it into one long infographic. But it’s not that simple: infographics are not the right communication tool for every occasion and can also be time-consuming to create.

    Having published several infographics and interactive data-sets recently, I’m delighted to share our experience about when they have worked best to help guide readers through the information-overload that surrounds us all – and we would love to hear your views.

    Our reports are densely packed with data, and our conclusions and recommendations are very firmly based on it. Some readers will pore over all the details. But others have too little time, or don’t need to know it all, or they first want to know the overall story, or they want to interrogate the data in their own way – just some of the reasons a visual summary is valuable.

    So how is the NAO being more visual?

    Key facts twitpicVisual images: Our reports have always contained charts, graphs, maps, diagrams, etc. to illustrate our data, and we highly key facts visually at the start of our reports. We also share individual images on social media when appropriate (as illustrated). Not only does this increase readers’ engagement compared with posts without such images, but it gives us an opportunity to continue spreading awareness over a long period.

    Interactive & visual: We are now also producing many interactive documents, which give readers easier access to the aspects in which they’re interested, and break up the text much more with images. Examples include:

    Data visualisation 
    Data visualisations: This page of our website includes the interactive data-sets that we’ve started producing more recently. They enable users to interrogate the data itself. For example our blog post Summing the parts of the whole (of government accounts) explains why we have provided interactive access to this complex set of data (illustrated).
    Police infographicInfographics – like this one on the financial sustainability of the police forces – are available on our website and used – in pieces – in our social media.

    We’ve had some very positive feedback about our infographics, such as: “excellent at-a-glance summary”, “I love this infographic”, “Useful infographic here summing up the key points”, “got to give credit to @NAOorguk & whoever does their infographics” (the answer, by the way, is our excellent Design team, working with our study teams).

    So, what have we learnt about infographics?

    Lesson 1: Be clear about the objective – for example, an infographic may aim to:

    • Clarify a complex set of data
    • Explain a process
    • Highlight a trend
    • Support an argument

    Lesson 2: An infographic isn’t always the best solution – and it’s good to mix up your medium.

    Lesson 3: Find the balance between showing the context and wealth of data available, and not overwhelming the viewer.

    Lesson 4: Complex infographics work best when there’s a logical flow to the story.

    Air qualityLesson 5: Surprising facts give infographics emotional power, grabbing attention and making it more likely viewers will share the story.

    Lesson 6: For twitter – an important public sector channel – complete infographics can be too complex. They work best when elements can be shared separately – as illustrated.Infographic tweet

    Our evidence to date isn’t complete enough to show trends, but our evaluation suggests that all these ways of visualising data make it easier for complex messages to be shared and remembered. For example, when we shared our infographic on the Financial sustainability of police forces on LinkedIn it had 56% more clicks, shares, likes and other engagement than the standard report post, and by tweeting separate elements of the Transforming rehabilitation infographic (as illustrated) we gained an additional reach of about 470,000 Twitter accounts and 30,000 additional views.

    We’re learning as we go along and we would love to hear your comments on this post or by contacting us – both on our data visualisations and your own experience of using them to help share complex messages.
    Janet Coull Trisic

    About the author: Janet Coull Trisic is the NAO’s Director of External Relations. She joined the NAO in 2015, having previously worked in communications for the House of Commons and in the Civil Service.



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