Infographic of the Day: Flow Chart of Obama's Health-Care Plan

We know charts and infographics have unequaled power to convince and explain. So why aren't they playing a bigger role in the health-care debate?

obama's health care chart

President Obama gets a lot of credit for mounting a presidential campaign--and government--that uses 21st century technologies in an unprecedented ways, from his online organizing and fund-raising efforts to his government transparency initiative. But he remains as musty as John Adams, in at least one respect: His insistence to use speeches alone, unaided by charts or graphs, to get his point across. As Ezra Klein, a health-care blogger for the Washington Post writes:

Congressmen routinely use graphs to illustrate points in their floor speeches or arguments around legislation. But presidents don't much use graphs. They still rely on people listening to them speak for an hour, or going to reread a transcript, or getting an accurate summation from the media. It's not a terribly efficient way to communicate. Not, at least, compared with graphs. For instance, what's more useful in understanding the basic shape of health-care reform? Every word you've heard or read up until this point, or Nick Beaudrot's flowchart? [Pictured above.]

Now, no one is suggesting that flow charts and graphs would have the power to define the debate. But they might--after all, if you've got an MBA or are familiar with the communication mantras practiced by McKinsey et al, then you know there's a business-world fetish with that one powerpoint slide that totally encapsulates a problem. Our culture is quickly growing to accept the idea of a definitive infographic, because infographics are better able to model an issue, in its sweep and complexity, than a mountain of words possibly can. No one, outside of CEO's at investor meetings and politicians, still communicates with huge groups using speeches alone.

Why shouldn't last week's address to Congress have been accompanied by a couple charts? They would have be flashed on screen endlessly afterward---more powerful than any meandering quote.

As Klein points out, Ross Perot gained tremendous momentum during his 1992 presidential run by using charts during presentations. And in the meantime, pundits, media outlets, and politicians are all experimenting with infographics.

There was, for example, this intentionally terrifying chart, produced by House Republicans, which purported to illustrate the Democratic plan for health reform. That chart in turn prompted a Democratic rebuttal, and a segment on the Daily Show, where John Stewart likens the Republican scare-chart to a "dildo rolled in glitter."

Well, President Obama? What's going on? You've got approximately 99.9999% of all graphic designers totally in the can. Why can't you guys order up some pretty graphs?

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3 Comments

  • Laura Shepard

    Took the words right out of my mouth. Health care is boring. People are used to 5-minute sound bites and simplistic gingoistic platitudes from the previous president. Health care reform is hard stuff --why not jazz it up and make the President's plan accessible to all, media-wise at least.

  • Laura Shepard

    Took the words right out of my mouth. Health care is boring. People are used to 5-minute sound bites and simplistic gingoistic platitudes from the previous president. Health care reform is hard stuff --why not jazz it up and make the President's plan accessible to all, media-wise at least.

  • Scott Stropkay

    I was advocating the same idea on Bruce Nussbaum's Business Week Innovation blog the other day. I believe a first step is helping people "see" the difference between the plan options Congress is considering. If people understood what each alternate plan really included they could be valuable (instead of misinformed) policy influencers. In my experience, when people consider major purchases they often look to Consumer Reports to see a range of choices organized, qualified, and ranked according to a range of important criteria. Why don't we see these alternate plans laid-out similarly? Wouldn't it be interesting to see policy growing/changing in a real-time graphic? Empty circles would indicate how that plan under performs on a certain parameter, full ones would indicate it did that job well. And it wouldn't be hard to view the data through different lenses, perhaps life-stage oriented, so you could see how it was working out for you compared to younger or older relatives, or people of other economic means, etc. It's time for Congress to start describing their work visually so we can all understand what is going on.