Data Driven Digest for May 22

“It’s got lots of numbers in it.” Former President George W. Bush was famously razzed for saying this about his budget, but today’s public sector budgets don’t rely solely on numbers; they’re increasingly expressed as data visualizations. Visualizing government spending has the goal of increasing transparency and making data more accessible – and isn’t that why we do any data visualization?

Kiwi Spending: The Government of New Zealand released its national budget on May 21, and within hours the National Business Review, a business newsweekly in the country, had published an interactive data visualization of the entire spending plan. The primary feature of NBR’s site is a treemap using size to indicate the budget amounts and color to indicate change over time. You can click on any category to see the biggest increases and decreases along with the 10-year spending trend. Acknowledging that people can get lost traversing the tree, NBR included this helpful advice on the site’s introductory page: “If you get lost too far down the rabbit hole, scroll down and click ‘Zoom Out’ to return to the main screen.” (We had to do that more than once while exploring.)


Common Wealth: Tip O’Neill (and many other pols) have reminded us that “All politics is local.” Budget data visualizations work at the local level, too. The town of Somerset, Massachusetts released the Somerset Visual Budget last week; like NBR’s tool in New Zealand, it lets you click through a treemap to see how much the town spends on public safety, libraries, IT and other categories. An additional cool feature: Residents can plug in how much they pay in property taxes and see how much of their money goes toward each category (as shown in the screenshot above). The site was created by Involution Studios.


The Buckeye Stops Here: While we’re visualizing government budgets, check out This site rolls up budgets from more than 3,900 local agencies into a single interactive site. The charts offer drill-downs and animated graphing, along with export, printing and social sharing options. Budgets back through 2008 are included in the site, enabling comparison of spending year to year.


This Just In: Not All Data Is True (bonus item): Big news this week at the intersection of data science and politics: A widely quoted and influential study about political persuasion, published in Science, turns out to have been based on a lie – or, as Carl Bialik politely says on FiveThirtyEight, “the underlying data appears to be fallacious.” Bialik’s article, As A Major Retraction Shows, We’re All Vulnerable To Faked Data, provides an excellent recap of the initial study, its retraction, and how the falsehood was uncovered. If you’re interested in truth in data – as we all should be – it’s recommended reading. The actual takedown by David Broockman of Stanford, Joshua Kalla of UC Berkeley, and Peter Aronow of Yale can be found in the politely titled academic paper Irregularities in LaCour (referring to the author of the Science piece).

Like what you see? Every Friday we share great data visualization and embedded analytics. 


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