Stad Gent

Ghent in data

Dis­cov­er how data visu­al­i­sa­tion makes fig­ures and com­mu­ni­ca­tion more acces­si­ble. Have fun!

Ghent in data
Client Stad Gent
  • Data & content strategy
  • Data storytelling

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.
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