Visualising Ghent with data

Visualising Ghent with data

Key takeaways

Discover how we visualised complex trends and figures into fun, accessible insights about the city and its population. Have fun learning more about Ghent!

Case 1 2x 2020 12 18 140200

Once upon a time, there was… a box full of unread reports.

Annelies Van Steenberg is a data management & data analysis specialist at the City of Ghent:

At the end of each legislative session, reports and forecasts must be made in order to prepare the next term of office. The City of Ghent has access to a wealth of data for a wide range of policy topics, right down to the district level. Though these complex figures were previously included in a printed report for all of Ghent’s political parties, they unfortunately didn’t see much use. An inherent flaw about printed data is that it’s quickly outdated, and it isn’t equally accessible to everyone. We wanted to change that. 

We asked Andries and Jessica from Bits of Love how they viewed this, resulting in a highly detailed and easily accessible data platform.”

Jessica Kellner is the Managing Partner at digital product studio Bits of Love in Bruges:

We strongly believe in the principles of open data. Accessibility provides transparency and trust, and user-friendliness should always be at the core of any service. We make this happen by going through lots of complex data, pouring it into a story, and visualising it in a way that most people can understand. For this project, the goal is to get to know Ghent better through the facts behind the figures; effectively not so much storytelling’ as it is story-doing’.

People that actively work with these kinds of data sets will quickly notice the impact it brings. Moreover, we think it’s hugely important for residents to have easy access to all of this information. It is their neighbourhood and their city after all. By making this platform and its data publicly accessible, the City of Ghent is able to share truly valuable knowledge with anyone.”

Digital is accessible and always up-to-date

As this data is dynamic and ever-changing, so too must the platform it’s hosted on. Annelies remarks on this:

We are now publishing new data directly to the Hoeveel in Stad Gent’ platform, down to the 25 district levels. For district directors – the coordinating contact points –, a wealth of information can be found here. They can see how their neighbourhood scores on certain aspects in relation to other districts. This gives them specific pointers to hold on to and allows them to do their job well. We provide the platform with regular updates so that everyone has instant access to the most recent data. With a printed report, getting up-to-date information out there would require a reprint and lose its value quickly.”

However, residents also get to reap the benefits of the platform by getting a different and more complete view of their district or city. Jessica explains how:

On top of clearly designed dynamic reports, we also added a fun quiz to the website. The goal here is to create involvement through interaction. This way, residents get to know more of the story behind the numbers. And as it turns out, their perception of certain trends or advancements often don’t match the actual figures at all. As a governmental agency, a platform like this allows you to actually create an objective image of your region.”

In terms of the initial investment, printed reports and a digital platform are actually on a comparable level. In fact, seeing as printed reports need to be reprinted every time the information changes, this is an important consideration from a budgetary point of view.”

Quote stadgent 2x

Annelies Van Steenberghe,
Data Management and Analysis – Stad Gent

Case 3 2x

Eight trends and six prognoses: A (data) source of inspiration

Annelies briefly returns to the beginning of the story.

The primary goal was to provide local politicians with up-to-date information in an accessible format. We did this by defining eight major trends in Ghent and linking them to six predictions. This information is immensely distinct, but easily discoverable thanks to these divisions. 

We provide each instance with our interpretations so that these figures can speak for themselves. This also allows us to easily expand on this information. The latest tool, Relocation Movements, showcases demographical data in a detailed but fresh visual manner.

Jessica explains the visualisation concept:

We’ve provided this data with a high level of do-it-yourself content. These days, as digital consumers, we want to be in control of how we interact with information. This is of course hugely different from paper reports, in which the data is passive by definition. On this platform, for example, you’re able to visualise data in absolute figures or by growth percentages. You can select specific districts and subsets of data you’re interested in. Not only does this kind of interaction ensure involvement, it enables you as a user to quickly find whatever information is personally relevant to you.”

Case 4

What makes for a good story? The results.

What effects has shifting from a paper report to an interactive data platform had? Annelies and Jessica are happy to share the data! 

After 2 years, we received 14.000 visitors who had spent an average of 3 minutes on Hoeveel in Stad Gent’. Especially when you consider that the website’s initial target audience was solely intended to be political parties, that’s a good result. 

Additionally, there hadn’t been any kind of mass communication or awareness campaigns for this project. New information was released exclusively through a press release and through internal channels. 

And in terms of appealing to the end user, district directors have responded very positively to having quick and easy access to recent figures about their district.

Tips from Annelies and Jessica about data visualisation:

  • Make sure the format reinforces the content. The concept of the story behind the data makes the data more telling.
  • Define a clear tone of voice for your story. There is a danger that you could interpret and process the data in your own way, when the interpretation should be up to the reader. 
  • Gamification works! In this case, the quiz turns unexciting numbers into animated and interactive information.
  • Think big, start small. You don’t need to launch everything at once, but do strategise about and anticipate the growth of your platform.

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