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More Adventures with Infographics

July 6, 2017

I have been watching the ongoing development of infographics as a reporting format in the Government of Canada, particularly for program evaluation and performance monitoring. So I was particularly interested to see what one of the central agencies who are advocates of the infographic approach had been up to.

I looked at a report called “Employment Equity in the Public Service of Canada 2015-2016”, in which infographics were employed to some extent. Here is an example from the beginning of the Results and Analysis section.

It explains that the four employment equity groups exceeded workforce availability, and notes that gaps remain in executive positions for women, visible minorities and Aboriginal peoples. Then it presents Figure 1, reiterating the points in the text.

Since the authors are current champions of infographic data presentation for purposes of more clarity and brevity in reporting, I’ll offer some comments.

Once you've figured out, since they are not labeled, that the left hand boxes were about the employment equity groups’ standing in the entire public service, while the right hand boxes were about the executive category, you then think: “OK, that’s clear”. But is it? The presentation of the status of the employment equity groups in the executive category leads one to think immediately that there is a real deficiency, experienced in three out of four categories. The situation is only really significantly out of alignment for Aboriginal peoples.The infographic implied a much more serious problem in the executive category than existed, until you took a second look at the numbers, which, of course, defeats the goal of clear and immediate apprehension of the facts in the data.

The analysis noted that this level of representation had been stable for four years. When I looked at the actual data, I found that the more complicated reality, including what was said in the text explaining the graphic to provide accessibility for the visually-impaired, was that there had been a small increase in overall workforce representation for all groups except those with disabilities, which had held steady, with the most significant increase happening for people belonging to visible minorities. This was an extension of the experience recorded over the last decade, which saw a slow but steady increase in overall workforce representation.

Finally, I was surprised that the blue and grey colours of the boxes turned out to mean nothing, after trying to figure out what they did mean.

A more immediately informative presentation, which includes the recent context, makes the current year performance clear and does not overstate the issue is offered here (click for a larger view):


Call it an infographic, a dashboard, an annotated visual display (the latter is my preference), I don’t care. What is important is that the data is presented clearly, in a way in which the key information is immediately evident and in context.