Visualizing Civic Data To Make The Case For Civic Health

A new contest found four online tools that help people be more engaged in politics and their communities–from finding out which candidates’ policies help you more to archives of photos of your neighborhood.


Groups like the National Conference on Citizenship and the Knight Foundation have been gathering data on “civic health” for several years. They believe solid data from surveys and academic research help us “understand civic life in communities across the country” and that an “evidence-based approach” gives more backbone to arguments in support of civic initiatives.


But getting the message out is not easy, according to Jeff Coates. Knight and NCoC have a wealth of data, but it’s not necessarily in a usable and approachable form so large numbers can appreciate it.

“They are quite cumbersome if you’re not used to data,” says Knight’s Jeff Coates, talking of projects like Knight’s “Soul of the Community” survey.

To get the data to a wider audience, NCoC and Knight started the Civic Data Challenge. And, after 170 teams took part, the winners were announced this weekend.

“This really unlocks the value of the data, and allows people to play around with it, and presents it in ways that are easily readable and understandable for the community, so it can take action,” says Coates.

The four winners:



Politify is a platform for voters to find how presidential policies will affect them. Plug in your salary, marital status, dependents, and zip code, and find out how much tax you’ll pay under Obama and Romney. Or just put in your zip code and find what percentage of residents in your area benefit from the benefits, and or what their tax and spending plans mean for the budget. Politify translates the rhetoric into numbers everyone can understand.


Will DeKrey and Sean McDonald created an interactive riff on the concept of Gross Domestic Product. Is GDP a helpful measure of civic success, or does its preeminence crowd out other important metrics, like happiness or well-being? The designers give the numbers, letting you decide.

The Art of Community Wellness


A team from the Philadelphia office of Razorfish, a design consultancy, came up with a video explaining how arts spending benefits communities in multiple ways. “Arts aren’t luxury. They are a part of a healthier future,” it says. The video points to research showing correlations between the number of artists in any state and stats on well-being, and civic engagement.


The idea behind OpenBlock is to pair publicly available data on neighborhoods with geo-located and time-dated photos. So, for example, you can view a photo from the Rockridge area of Oakland taken in December 2009 or October 2010. OpenBlock is an open-access platform for hyper-local news, and is designed to promote economic development.

Second places, honorable mentions, and so on, are here. Coates adds:

“How certain characteristics and indicators have ramifications on how we live is not greatly understood. But it’s really important for citizens to understand, so they can be better informed and really engaged in what matters to them.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.