The process for choosing winners for this third and final round of the 2014-15 On Think Tanks Data Visualisation Competition has been a complicated one. As we explained in a previous post, we didn't hold a public vote for this round because we felt it required a bit deeper reflection than a quick click could afford.

The judging process

In total we had 17 strong entries in this round. Of those, three were new and had only submitted to this round. But 14 also participated in a previous round. At the time of submission, those entrants were given the option to also participate in the third round; and those who did were asked to give more information about their respective communication strategies. But those who applied exclusively for the third round tended to give more information, which made it difficult to judge all seventeen entries fairly.

We asked our six judges, therefore, to consider all seventeen entries, rather than narrowing it down to a top five in the public vote. Specifically, we asked the judges to consider the following questions:

  • Are there are clear communication objectives articulated for the overarching campaign?
  • Does the data visualisation play a distinct role in that communication strategy (i.e. there is a clear purpose behind the visualisation distinct from other outputs)?
  • Does the data visualisation appear to be an effective way of reaching the target audience described in the communication strategy?
  • Has the overall communication strategy been successful and are there clearly defined measures of success?

Key concerns

Overall, the judges came up with mixed responses to these questions, and no single entry came out wildly ahead of any of the others, though a few did distinguish themselves from the pack.

This is perhaps for a number of reasons, as the judges discussed following the inconclusive ranking.

  1. This round wasn't about choosing the best visualisation  that was what the first two rounds were for. This round was designed to find examples of unique and instrumental uses of data visualisation as part of a broader communication strategy. As it stood, this was difficult to judge as the information provided was inconsistent. This is a useful lesson for future contests, and if we were to do it again, we would target the questions better and ensure they were all in place from the beginning.
  2. It could also be that we were expecting too much from the entries. Some of the judges come from organisations that articulate clear written communication plans and strategies, which informed the design of this round (if you haven't seen ODI's how to write a communication strategy before, it's worth a look!). But it's possible that other organisations around the world do not operate in such a manner. And even if they do, there may have been an unwillingness to publicly share communication strategies, or entrants may not have understood that this was desired from the judges (see the point on asking the right questions, above!).
  3. Potentially of most concern is that, because data visualisations are still a relatively new approach for many think tanks, the technical and aesthetic process of development is simply relegating strategic thinking about a visualisation's utility. Whether or not this is the case, we do encourage those developing data visualisations to invest equally in answering the 'why', the purpose of the visualisation, and not to get overly bogged down in the technical aspect of producing a visualisation.

And the winners are...

Instead of awarding a winner and runner up, as we have done for our previous rounds this year, we've decided to take a slightly different approach with this round. We have settled on four runners up, each of whom are entitled to a US$500 prize, and no first place winner.

Without further ado, the four runners up, in no particular order, are:

The judges felt that each of these four visualisations merited recognition in different ways.

‘Ecos de México’, for example, is not a particularly complicated data visualisation, but it’s a useful way of quickly communicating a lot of information and also seems to play a key role in a wider communication strategy. The visual is not an end in itself; rather, it is designed to encourage visits to the Ethos website and to support clicks through to the original articles that it attempts to summarise.

For ‘UK government departments by grade composition’, it was quite clear that this one visual is only one small part of a much broader launch of the Whitehall Monitor project. But the visualisation helps to draw in a particular audience. Though one judge did query whether to would reach a very broad audiences, noting: ‘It’s good for technical analysis and as an output from a statistical package, but it lacks a bit of creativity of what could be done with it, and only a technically educated audience would understand it.’

‘Identity crisis’, on the other hand, was an interesting example of where the visualisation WAS the communication strategy, as they explain in one of their introductory videos. In this case, it was about taking a very complex topic and representing it in a clear way to raise awareness.

And finally, ‘Don’t limit HER possibilities!’ was a winner in Round 1. At that time, one of the judge’s comments was: ‘As it stands, the audience is mainly parents [in Georgia] and ensuring they continue to support their daughters in these areas. That hits on a key cultural point, but doesn’t necessarily pass muster as a policy recommendation.’ But as part of a wider communication strategy to encourage participation in their coding classes, it seems more purposeful.

The future for ttdatavis

All in all, congratulations to the four runners up this round, and to all our winners for the 2014-15 competition!

Like last year, we’ll be working to compile the entries and our how tos and commentary in a new compilation. We’ll be launching that at the end of April at the Cartagena Data Festival. So keep an eye out!

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