Next Steps for Census Reporter
By Sara Schnadt
Planning in progress after ONA - with Census Reporter Community Liaison/Designer Sara Schnadt, Front-End Developer/Designer Ryan Pitts, Board Member John Keefe, Project Lead Joe Germuska (and Back-End Developer Ian Dees behind the camera). Clockwise from top left.
After coming together in Atlanta for the Online News Association Conference, our team met to plan out our next round of development in response to feedback from journalists at the conference. An intense day of brainstorming and teasing out of ideas led to a big leap forward in how we are thinking about the interface.
Melding of the minds and the computers. Census Reporter team begins day-long planning session after ONA
Instead, we’ll rebuild this feature as “Explore a topic,” and offer journalists a lot more guidance in selecting the best data table to answer their questions (more on that later). Once they’ve found the right data, we’ll provide a geography search so they can see what the numbers look like in a place they care about. And at that point, we’ll expose tools to help compare that data across similar places (“how does the median income in Chicago compare with other cities in Illinois?”), or see how the data is distributed within the place itself (“which census tracts in Spokane have the highest poverty rates?”)
This is a fundamental shift in our approach to site architecture, and will manifest in several new interface elements that will be defined in the next couple of months. But there are some key considerations that we have identified right away as well.
The first is that we need a way to choose a place that accounts for the nuances of picking census places. We can do this by combining the core logic of the ‘Use your current location’ view (extending it to work for any geography you choose) with a click-able map that shows you all of the Census geographic boundaries surrounding your selected place.
Preliminary interface idea for picking a place (building off of the ‘Find places based on your current location’ tool)
To deal with the daunting task of searching thousands of tables with sometimes obscure-sounding census-ese names, we are also planning to tag and (possibly) annotate all of the tables in the ACS. This will also make the tables themselves easier for journalists to browse, so we are not dealing with names like this:
And, we are planning topical landing pages that are as curated as our Profile a Place pages to guide users to finding important topical and related data. We will keep the current Compare Places interface as well so that this more fine-grained tool is available for the census-savvy.
The other big new idea is a global pop-up panel that can appear wherever you are and give you at-a-glance contextual information about the data or visualizations you are looking at, changing the details it displays as you mouse over the page. The exact solution will evolve as we build, but will support the general idea of simultaneously offering the user the most relevant information on a topic or place and detailed contextual information. We looked at WNYC’s Bike Share Stations Map as a good example of this kind of panel in action.
Clicking on a paddle makes this panel pop up, displaying related data for that location.
We also came up with solutions for the three pivot-points for place-based data that users requested during our demos at ONA. For the first one, the ability to compare profiles of multiple places, we will create shopping cart functionality for cherry-picking places to see alongside each other, displaying them with comparable ‘apples to apples’ statistics and visualizations.
For the second, time-based pivot point for Profile of a Place, we are drafting a way to see the data over time. This is a bit challenging because there have been changes to the questions asked in the survey and to the boundaries used to tabulate responses. Also, for the smallest geographies (population less than 20,000), technical details about the ACS methodology mean that there is no historic value suitable for comparison.
The third pivot point, the detailed, deeper dive view into topics on the profile page, will be integrated with the new topic landing pages, creating one of several tie-ins between topic and place-based searching.
The other ideas that journalists brought up to us are in the hopper as well, and most will fold into the main solutions outlined here. Others will likely appear in a new dedicated section we are envisioning for more in-depth, analytical, contextual and exploratory features.
While many excellent new ideas that came out of our time at ONA (some from journalists, and some inspired by their experience), our biggest takeaway is that we are basically on the right track. All of the new additions to the Census Reporter site will just make the project stronger and more relevant to journalists’ actual work-flows. We came away from our time in Atlanta newly invigorated and ready to begin the next round of work.
As we begin to build new features and improvements for the Census Reporter site, we encourage you to tell is what you think of our plans in our Feedback Forums.