"How do we fix our National Budget Deficit and Debt? Help us build a website that helps America explore the answers to build our future."
I love this project on Kickstarter. Visual Budget is an extraordinary data visualisation project that is setting out to explain the complexities of the US Federal Budget, find the human element behind the numbers, and bring it to life through storytelling with data.
This kind of stuff is important. The US and UK governments have gone to substantial lengths to open up their data and crowdsource ideas to mixed levels of success (crowdsourcing isn't easy). Many US states have a spending transparency site enabling access for citizens to detailed spending information from state agencies. Some have performance transparency portals that take this into the realm of performance information and in rare cases to information on outcomes. And interestingly, someone has already suggested to the UK government the idea of developing a national version of such spending and performance transparency sites that would enable the public to view information on how their tax pounds are being spent, and how well public service organizations are performing in delivering outcomes that improve people’s lives.
I'm not a fan of the over-burdensome, target-driven culture of government championed by some, but aside from the good work The Guardian have done in visualising the UK Budget (often in collaboration with David McCandless), there seems to be a lack of accessibility to the bigger picture of government policy and outcome, and use of tools like data visualisation to tell the real story of what's going on at a national government level.
So for me this is not just about increased accountability and transparency. The originators of Visual Budget say that their aim is to bring a new breadth of knowledge to the political discourse around the budget deficit, and beyond that to push the politicians to act, and motivate people to act, and to make a real difference.
They make the point that popular news media is really bad at explaining conceptual subjects, and topics of relative proportion, focusing instead on the newsworthy or controversial in isolation and making it difficult to see a true representation of what the bigger picture really looks like. On a personal level, I'd also welcome something that represented a counterpoint to the constant use of isolated, out-of-context statistics by politicians trying to make a point or justify an individual policy.
At time of writing Visual Budget had already beaten its funding target by 50% and still has 38 days to go. So good for them – I really hope it lives up to what it could be.