Highlights

International Journal of Government Auditing – Summer 2015


Publishing data visually

The United Kingdom’s National Audit Office (NAO) audits 442 sets of Financial Statements and produces around 60 Value for Money (VFM) studies each year. Our reports and client financial statements are data-rich, with the potential to provide insight into the government, the wider public sector, and the citizens who rely on public services.

We are committed to improving public engagement with both our reports and our clients and we have been considering data analytics as a tool to do so.

Better access to data can improve efficiency and public policy decision-making, and can hold the government to account for its financial decisions. The majority of publications created by both the NAO and public sector bodies are released in PDF format. Such a format does not allow users to easily access and analyze the numbers.

By publishing a visual representation of the numbers in a set of financial statements, we offer users with even a minimal knowledge of the government the opportunity to investigate the numbers. These visual aids provide users with a better understanding of the big picture than they would likely have after reading financial statements.

The Whole of Government Accounts (WGA), as seen in Figure 1, contains overarching financial information on the income and expenses of the UK government, alongside the assets and liabilities held. The WGA provides a complete picture of the financial position of government, and is of interest to both members of Parliament and to taxpayers. This document is 227 pages long, and is a good example of where, because of its size, improved access and presentation of data would be useful for a wide variety of users.

Figure 1: Example of Whole of Government Accounts

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Figure 2: Example of interactive visualization of information

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Creating an interactive visualization of financial information

With five years of data available, we decided to present both individual year data and trend analysis. Also, rather than post static graphics, we have published the data in an interactive format. This information is posted online, where users can click on different elements of the graphs to explore the data. They can also select multiple elements, allowing them to compare different aspects of the financial statements——for example property, plants, equipment and depreciation. By publishing the data in an engaging format, we have had seven times the number of website visitors during the first three months of posting the interactive visualization online than we had in 2014.

The user experience has been a key consideration when designing the presentation. The software allows tailoring of every detail, click, hover and transition. If you hover over a data point, for example, detailed information about the figures appears. This gives a much cleaner feel to the presentation than would otherwise be possible.

We have had positive feedback from both government staff and from our wider stakeholders. We plan to build upon the WGA visualization, enabling users to explore the WGA data to greater levels of detail.

Going forward, we plan to roll out this approach to data presentation across more of our outputs, in order to drive higher engagement with our work. We have recently published a similar tool exploring the data of the Civil Service People Survey; this tool allows users to compare major departments on topic scores such as engagement, bullying and harassment, and leadership.

To see the visualizations in action, please visit the following websites:

Whole of Government Accounts:

www.nao.org.uk/highlights/whole-of-government-accounts/

Civil Service People Survey Explorer:

www.nao.org.uk/tableau-data-civil-service-people-survey-explorer/

For more informationcontact Rachel Kirkman at the UK NAO: rachel.kirkham@nao.gsi.gov.uk