(Disclaimer: The “Sector” and “Organization type” categories are not part of the original Government of Ontario dataset, I added them. There might be errors, and if there are, it’s my fault and not that of the Ontario Public Service. Use at your own risk.)
I’ve written before about how important I think visual presentations of information are. It only makes sense that eventually I would try my hand at producing them. I decided to look at the Ontario public salary disclosure list. Whether or not it’s good policy is debatable, but it’s a really fun data set. I’ve been playing around with the list and see if I could show something interesting that isn’t immediately apparent from just looking at the list in table form. I used an app called Tableau Public to generate a filterable interactive dashboard (unfortunately WordPress won’t let me embed the interactive version, but I’ve included an image below that you can click on to see the full version). The dashboard is really the star of this post, so go take a look. You can click on sectors or organizations in the bar charts to filter the dashboard to display just those items.
There are a few lessons that I learned while making this. First, data formatting matters; I would encourage organizations and individuals to make data available is the most accessible form possible. The Ontario disclosure list is published in HTML tables over multiple pages, which isn’t as bad as a PDF (thankfully Excel can import data directly from websites, and I had a bit of free time to reformat it), but still takes more effort to work with than an .xls (Excel) or .csv (universal) file.
The second lesson was that making good visualizations is surprisingly difficult. This may sound obvious, but I don’t think many people really realize what goes in to making graphics that effectively convey a large amount of information. In addition to technical skills, it’s necessary to understand how to present images in a way that meshes with our natural ability to take in information; it’s like learning how to write an essay all over again, but in a new medium. I had visions of making a wonderful intuitive visualization that could quickly tell at least a portion of the story of public compensation in Ontario, but I don’t think it succeeded. I’m pleased with the outcome, and I think it’s much more useful than the original disclosure listing, but it isn’t quite as natural and quick to understand as I’d hoped. Any suggestions to make it better?
– By Brent Barron