Constituent Engagement

Engaging Citizens With Data That Tells Stories and Answers Questions

Our government agencies serve millions of citizens and their questions and concerns present opportunities for officials to better meet their constituents’ needs. Communicating clearly and quickly through visual presentation is paramount to improving citizen engagement.

A spreadsheet turning into a map to demonstrate interactive data

Organizational Cultures for the Better

Better practices for displaying external data to the public start with internal changes. The culture of an agency adapts in response to official policy, and that trend extends to data as well. Many organizations have existed for decades dealing with data fiefdoms and legacy technology. Administrators have differing opinions on who should have access to what data, which directly impacts how that data is presented to the public.

By embracing open data and interactive displays, we can create a culture where citizens actively participate in providing data that is relevant to their daily lives. Whether it’s information on healthcare, education or transportation, critical data is where agency policies and cultures need to adapt to better serve their constituents. In short, relevant information is where the rubber meets the road.

Engaging, Intuitive and Accessible

There are many ways to produce and present valuable data, but at its core, every display, infographic or report should share three attributes.

  1. Engaging: The best way to know if you are meeting citizens’ expectations is to hear from them, but they won’t offer feedback if they aren’t interested. Take the State of Ohio’s budget website, for example. On this interactive site, every bar graph can be clicked for expanded breakdowns of the state’s finances and additional resources. Each display is titled with a question that shows what topic the data addresses, allowing the users to search efficiently.
  2. Intuitive: You don’t buy an iPhone because you enjoy reading owner’s manuals. You just know what to do. If we need to send a manual along, we’re falling short. Citizens don’t become data scientists or public policy experts when they visit government websites. Data displays need to be absolutely intuitive.
  3. Accessible: Almost no one knows what to do with an XML file – certainly not average citizens. If your agency website is distributing studies in uncommon formats, then you have already missed the mark.


Many individuals within government agencies believe that calls for transparency are really a method to police their actions. Instead of viewing accountability as punitive, consider reporting a chance to start a dialogue. What is the agency doing well? Are there areas that can be improved?

Crowdsourcing is a popular private sector example. Yelp has built its business off the reviews of its users, and Amazon maintains a product satisfaction database through its customers. This level of feedback is the same bar that government agencies should set for their citizen portals. If the citizens aren’t engaging with their content the same way they might rate a restaurant, then how should the agency change its reporting tactics?

Click here to learn more about how citizens can revitalize government’s approach to issues through interactive feedback. And if you’re planning to attend the upcoming DoDIIS Worldwide Conference in St. Louis on August 13-16, please visit Tableau at booth 428 near the Carahsoft Partner Pavilion. See you there!

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