Ghent in data
Discover how data visualisation makes figures and communication more accessible. Have fun!
Once upon a time, there was … a box full of unread reports
Annelies Van Steenberg is a data management and data analysis specialist at the City of Ghent.
“At the end of each legislature, a report and forecasts must be made for the next term of office. The city of Ghent has a wealth of data, right down to district level and for a wide range of policy topics. These figures come together on a data platform and were previously included in a printed report for all Ghent’s political parties. But in fact, the reports were not actively used. Printed data is also quickly outdated and not equally accessible to everyone. We wanted to change that. We asked Andries and Jessica from Bits of Love how they viewed this.”
Jessica Kellner is the managing partner at Bits of Love in Bruges. “We strongly believe in the principles of open data. Accessibility provides transparency and trust. The basis is user-friendliness. We do the latter by visualising data and pouring it into a story. For the project of the City of Ghent, the storyline was: get to know Ghent better through the facts behind the figures. Not storytelling but story-doing. If people actively work with data, the impact increases rapidly. Moreover, we think it is important that residents also have easy access to all this data. After all, it is about their neighbourhood and their city. By sharing this data, the City of Ghent was also able to share knowledge.”
Digital is accessible and always up-to-date
Data is dynamic, so a data platform must be dynamic too. Annelies talks about that:
“We are now putting new data directly on the platform ‘With how many in the City of Ghent’. We’re doing this down to the 25 district levels. A wealth of information can be found here for the district directors – the coordinating contact points. They can see how their neighbourhood scores on certain aspects and in relation to other districts. This gives them something to hold on to for their jobs. We provide regular updates so that everyone has instant access to recent data. With a paper version, you would have had to do a reprint.”
But residents also often get a different view of their district or city thanks to the ‘With how many in the City of Ghent’ platform. Jessica explains how.
“We put a fun quiz on the website. The goal: to create involvement through interaction. In this way, residents get to know the story behind the numbers. And as it turns out, often their perception of certain things doesn’t match the figures at all. As a government, you can actually create an objective image.”
8 trends and 6 prognoses: a (data)source of inspiration
Annelies briefly returns to the beginning of the story.
“The goal was to provide local politicians with up-to-date data in an accessible format. We did this by defining 8 major trends in Ghent on the basis of the data and linking 6 forecasts to them. This information is very specific, but easy to find thanks to this division. Each time, we provide the data visualisation with interpretation. In this way, the figures speak for themselves. Moreover, we can easily expand the information. The latest tool is ‘Relocation Movements’. This allows us to show demographic data in a detailed but very fresh visual way.”
Jessica explains the visualisation concept.
“We have given the data a high level of do-it-yourself content. Today, as digital consumers, we want to be in control. That is a big difference from a paper report in which data is passive by definition. On the platform, for example, you can have data visualised in absolute figures or growth percentages. You can select a district and the data you need. This interaction not only ensures involvement but also that you can quickly find the information that’s relevant to you as a user.”
What makes a good story? The results.
From a paper report to an interactive data platform: what effects has this had? Annelies and Jessica are happy to share the data! After 2 years, we have 14,000 visitors who spent an average of 3 minutes on ‘How many in the City of Ghent’. That is a good result, especially when you know that the website was initially intended for political parties. In addition, there was no mass communication, we only announce new information through a press release and through internal channels. The reactions of the district directors are also positive: they now have access to recent figures about ‘their’ district.
“And in terms of investment? A printed report and a digital platform are on a comparable level. In fact, the printed version should be reprinted every time there is new information. An important consideration from a budgetary point of view.”
Data visualisation. Tips from Annelies and Jessica
- Make sure the format reinforces the content. The story concept behind the data makes the data more telling.
- Define a good tone of voice for your story. There is a danger that you interpret the data in the story your way. That is the role of the reader.
- Gamification works! In this case, the quiz turns unexciting numbers into animate information.
- Think big, start small. You don’t have to launch everything at once but do anticipate the growth of your platform.