Results of the On Think Tanks Data Visualisation Competition, Round 1

4 September 2013

The votes are in. The judging is in. And we can now officially announce the winner of the first round of the On Think Tanks Data Visualisation Competition. Drumroll please!

The first place winner of $500 and a chance to compete in the finals is…

Mapping Arms Data
Mapping Arms Data

Mapping Arms Data from the Igarapé Institute in Brazil.

Both CIPPEC Data, from CIPPEC in Argentina, and the Better Life Index from the ethos Public Policy Lab in Mexico will be joining the final round too, with a chance to compete for up to US$2000 in cash plus up to US$5000 to attend relevant workshops or conferences.

We’d like to congratulate all of the entrants, including Did Kenya’s Health Budget Really Go Down? and Distribution of Political Parties in Guatemala on a job well done! The judging decisions were very difficult, and we were impressed with the quality of all of the entries.

Mapping Arms Data truly stood out for the judging team as an example of how data visualisation can make information that would otherwise be hidden available and accessible to a very wide audience.

Of the MAD visualisation, one of the judges described it as ‘technically very impressive’. Another judge added, ‘It’s very exciting, interesting and engaging!’.

Indeed, after viewing the visualisation, the judging team saw evidence of tweets along the lines of: ‘Did you know X sold arms to Y neighbouring country?’

Although the judges felt that it could have been strengthened with a clearer policy implication, and we were concerned that it used high technology and a lot of bandwidth – making it difficult to view in developing countries – we loved that it could start a conversation.

Apparently the BBC thought so too. During the contest, one of the visualisation’s authors was interviewed by the BBC about it, and about the role of using data to hold governments to account. A great interview, well worth the watch.

While we certainly weren’t expecting coverage from the likes of the BBC, we will admit that the publicity drove up the votes for the entry. Let’s just say that it sets a high bar for future rounds!

But even without such a global media presence, we have to give a round of applause to the IEA in Kenya who led a solid ‘get out the vote’ campaign, nearly pipping MAD at the end post. Indeed, making a good visualisation is only half the battle – making sure it’s well promoted is just as key.

The other two entries that have been selected to go to final represent impressive aesthetics and information.

CIPPEC data presents an enormous amount of information in a technically excellent and truly beautiful format. It’s a great example of what is possible with a bit of creativity and a big technical support base.

And for the Better Life Index, in addition to its clean lines and clear formatting, we thought it was an excellent use of publically available data (compiled by the OECD) but tailored for a relevant audience. “The technical skills required for some of the visualisations in this competition might be out of reach for many think tanks, but the Better Life Index is not. It’s the kind of thing our clients find very useful, but can be produced quickly as part of the day-to-day communications strategy’, suggested John Swartz of Soapbox, a digital communication company that helps UK think tanks and policy-makers to convey their ideas.

If you’re inspired by this round, never fear: submissions open for Round 2 tomorrow. The deadline for submissions is 2 October 2013, followed by voting and judging. We look forward to future entries – especially from Africa and Asia, which were truly under-represented in the first round!