U.S. State Department Cozies Up to Crowd-sourcing and Infographics, With Opinion Space

Can infographics help generate ideas for government–and make us into better citizens?

Opinion Space

That dizzying infographic you see above isn’t some interaction designer’s master’s thesis. It’s actually on the U.S. State Department’s Web site: Opinion Space, launched on Monday, attempts to gather up thousands of people’s opinions on foreign policy, graph them relative to each other, and spur dialogue about the issues.


The infographic was created by Berkeley’s Center for New Media, a think tank that’s funded in large part by Craigslist. So in essence, the project owes its existence to Craig Newmark, of all people. Talk about Government 2.0.

When you sign on, you’re asked to answer five questions, on a sliding scale, ranging from whether global warming is a threat to national security, to whether a country’s economic development is tied with women’s rights. Finally, you’re asked to write your most important idea to share with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

The site then crunches all your opinions, and then maps you as a single dot, close to other people who share similar ideas. Others can then see your dot, and vote you up or down based on your insightfulness. That, in turn, increases how big and bright your dot appears.

As the Nieman Journalism Lab reports, the idea is two fold: First, to crowd-source some cutting edge foreign policy. If that sounds a bit pie-in-the-sky for a country that can’t even get the CIA to share info with the FBI, the second aim is even grander: By plotting people’s opinions on a continuum, rather than as two extremes, the tool is supposed to fight “cyber-polarization”–the tendency of people to read only the media they agree with, and become even more radical in their opinions as a result.

Frankly, all of it sounds a bit farfetched, and the tool itself is still pretty glitchy. But its still easy to imagine a day when tools like these will actually become real factors in our democracy–in fact, that’s always been the argument made by many influential thinkers in infographics. Cross your fingers.

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.