Results of the On Think Tanks Data Visualisation Competition, Round 2

23 October 2013

With twice as many entries as the first round, Round 2 of the On Think Tanks Data Visualisation Competition has proved to be a highly competitive one! The public voting narrowed down the field to the top five visualisations, and the last week has been spent with the judges going back and forth on who should win this round. But the decision has been made, and the winner is…

Our Money – Visualisation of the Hungarian Budget Spending!

The team at Budapest Institute for Policy Analysis in Hungary will be receiving US$500 and will be entered into the final round.

Also joining this visualisation in the final will be the CIEP Tax Simulator and Political Clientelism, Wasting Our Money. The final round will take place in January 2014 following Round 3, which opens for new entries tomorrow and will be open until 20 November 2013. The final round will comprise of ten entries — the three finalists from each round plus one wild card entry selected by the Think Tank Fund, who sponsors this competition. In that final round, the first prize overall is US$2,000 in cash plus up to $5,000 to attend a relevant conference or training. Second prize overall is US$1,000 in cash, and third prize overall is US$500. So keep those data visualisations coming!

We’d also like to congratulate the other two in the top five after the public voting for a well fought competition: the 2013 Universe of Public Expenditure and the Balance between Governance and Participation. The competition judges have always been clear that having a strong visualisation is not enough — it must also be able to reach a wider audience — which is why we have chosen only to consider those top five entries.

Having said that, many thanks to the other five entries for submitting some very compelling visualisations: PMRC – Sparking debateCenaZaMonopol.skKodupiltChile: Territorial inequalities, and Kenyan National Debt: Is it sustainable?. They should serve as good ideas and reference points for others looking to develop data visualisations.

We’re sure the judges of every competition say it was a tough decision — but this round particularly was for us. In the blind ranking the five judges managed to diverge seriously in their opinions. One entry even managed not to have a mode (i.e. every single judge gave it a different rank!). I don’t think there could be any clearer of an indication that the judges were deeply conflicted.

However, in addition to a simple ranking, the judges also independently rated each visualisation against a number of criteria, like aesthetics, technicality and clearness of policy implication. Our Money simply performed the best across the various categories.

One of the judges noted: ‘It does exactly what a visualisation should — makes the data instantly understandable. Is the defense budget bigger than the welfare budget? You can tell immediately. Has the budget grown or shrunk since 1996? You can tell immediately.’

Probably the biggest mark against the visualisation was its lack of originality. It was seen by the judges as being very similar in style to the budget representation done by the Guardian Data Blog. It was also highly reminiscent of the Open Knowledge Foundation‘s Open Spending Initiative (those of you in the UK might be particularly interested in Where does my money go? which is also based on the Open Spending platform). However, the judges ultimately agreed that originality does not trump execution. And in the case of Our Money, the visualisation was very well executed. Everything was kept to scale, and the context provided by the comparisons at the bottom of the visualisation helped put the Hungarian budget into context. Did you know that the Research and Development budget for Hungary is about equal to the cost of Will and Kate’s wedding? Well, now you do.

As another of the judges put it, using a familiar format actually ‘makes it easier to compare across countries’. And indeed, the same could be said of the other budget-oriented visualisation, the 2013 Universe of Public Expenditures, which is a localised version of a similar project done in the US called ‘Death and Taxes‘.

The other two finalists were more technologically advanced, and the judges really appreciated their interactivity. At the same time, one of the reasons that they didn’t end up in pole position is that it is important to strike an appropriate balance between technicality and usability. We thought, for example, that the CIEP Tax Simulator was a fascinating and very useful tool to a very educated audience and to decision makers. However, it required an explanation for how to use it, which somewhat detracts from the visualisation’s stated objective of having ‘Public Finances in Mexico to be understood and discussed by everyone and no longer an issue only for specialists and some public officials’.

For Political Clientelism, Wasting Our Money, we appreciated the unique approach, and also found it to be a very data rich visualisation. It contained a lot of information in a very compact space.

So 10 great entries in Round 2. We look forward to what Round 3 may bring! So do remember, Round 3 opens for new entries tomorrow and will be open until 20 November 2013.