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Data, Communication, and… Baseball?

Anyone can throw a baseball. Not just anyone can make one dance.

Watching the World Series, it’s amazing to see how some artists on the mound can make the ball sink, curve, slow down, or spin. That’s pitching. In sharing performance data, some local governments stop at the point of throwing – dumping their data files or graphs online as if that’s sufficient to meet their due diligence. It seems like it’s of just secondary concern if the public doesn’t understand what it all means.

At the ICMA annual conference, staff from Kansas City, Missouri, shared some examples of this.

A session entitled “Your Charts Suck,” showcased ways to move from merely passable graphs and charts to those that would communicate the essential information with less clutter. These before and after images show how an initial cut at the data can be made more user-friendly. More dynamic options might include online links to allow readers to see the underlying detail or a text description of the data’s significance and what’s being done to improve on the government’s performance.

Charts Before


Charts After


The "before" version includes plenty of color and text, but too much clutter. The "after" version spotlights the key policy issue, simplifies the legend, and overlays key values.

The city also decided to take its charts to the next level by asking local artists to put their own imprint on them. The “Art of Data” project took ten standard municipal datasets and turned them over to those who could not only give them a creative appearance, but also help the public relate to the data in a new way – from emojis and flags to rainclouds, textiles, and calls to action – the artists found ways to make data catch the public’s eye and encourage discussion on everything from homicide rates to road maintenance.  The result was not just an interesting art exhibition, but also an improvement in citizen satisfaction ratings relating to the city’s image.

Charts Art


From the "Art of Data" exhibit - rethinking 311/CRM data as a pathway to greater public engagement.


The graphs and charts we share tell the public a story. They can show that we’re cutting-edge and engaged, using all the tools at our disposal to have a constructive dialogue around community issues, or that we’re only willing to share information when it’s in a 3GB file of indecipherable financial spreadsheets that we threw up on the website.

So are you pitching your data to the public or merely throwing it?

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