Democratizing Data

On January 20, 2009 – his first day in office – President of the United States Barack Obama started the Open Government Initiative in an effort to increase transparency and accountability of the government. A few month later websites like Data.gov and Recovery.gov were launched, giving the public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.

Terabytes of data have become available in these past years, although still lacking common formatting or standards. API’s for simple queries against the data are rare and often inadequate and countless flat files are still waiting to be used by anyone willing to dig through them. Not surprisingly, the number of websites and applications utilizing this public data is still fairly small and the quality is uneven, but we do see more and more designers, entrepreneurs and the media making use of this repository of information on a daily base.

govMapper tries to keep track of the various visualizations and graphics, interactive stories and data aggregators across the web. We will feature websites and applications that might help us to understand and utilize government data in an interactive and graphic manner.

We will also periodically produce our own data visualizations, and we have three to get you started:

Our Labor Map provides an at a glance view of the different employment statistics from the DOL’s Occupational Employment Statistics database such as wages (hourly and annual), total number of jobs, unemployment rates as well as location quotients to be viewed on a map of the U.S.

One can easily switch between occupation groups and drill down into the sub groups while the data is rendered on an interactive choropleth map. Clicking on any U.S. state will reveal a scorecard with detailed information about the states population, employment and unemployment numbers, the average wages and deviation from the U.S. average. It also lists the states top employers and an industry breakdown in percent.

The second interactive view we have created focuses on the federal budget over the last twenty-five years, broken down by government functions as well as by the various agencies. The interactive graph enables the user to look at the budget in nominal numbers, as real dollar amounts adjusted by inflation and as a percent of the overall budget. The data was based on the excellent What We Pay For data API.

And finally, we also provide a by-county view of the current poverty levels across the U.S. in our Poverty Map.

govMapper is edited and maintained by Hermann Zschiegner – principal of TWO-N – a New York-based design studio committed to the development of experimentation and collaboration in the fields of data visualization, interaction design and the built environment. He has received numerous awards for his work including most recently the 2010 “Award of Excellence” from Communication Arts. His project stockMapper was an official nominee at the 2010 Webby Awards in the category for “Financial Services”.

Feel free to leave your comments and suggestions below, we are always looking out for interesting visualizations of government data. For now our focus is on U.S. data sets, but we might add various world views in the future.