Visualizing Complex Gov't Data With Azure And PowerBI

 

GenUI

We build innovative software products that accelerate technology roadmaps and deliver real impact for clients and customers. Experts in mobile, web and cloud solutions, we value collaboration, future-focused ideas and tough challenges. Let’s build the future together.

Updated Apr 21, 2017

At A Glance 

USAFacts was founded in 2017 as a non-profit organization offering a non-partisan portrait of the US population, government’s finances, and government’s impact on society. Relying exclusively on publicly available government data sources, USAFacts sought to design a public-facing website to make the information easy to access and consume. To do so, they turned to the design team at Artefact and the engineering team at GenUI. 

About USAFacts

The US government serves 321 million people across 90,000 jurisdictions, spending more than $5 trillion a year. What happens with that money? Where does it go? Who does it serve? And what outcomes does it achieve?

These are the questions former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer seeks to answer through his non-partisan, not-for-profit civic data initiative known as USAFacts. The organization has no political agenda or commercial motive. It makes no judgments nor prescribes specific policies. Pulling data from more than 130 government statistical databases and reports such as the Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget, the organization is aimed at making government data (tax revenues, expenditures, and outcomes) more transparent, specifically by producing reports similar to those produced annually by America’s public corporations – a sort-of Form 10-K for the government.

GIF-1

Making Data For The People

From the start, the teams at Artefact and GenUI knew they had two main challenges on their hands: 

  1. How to organize 30 years of complex, multi-layered data from more than 70 local, state, and federal government agencies into a well-designed, centralized hub. 
  2. How to give people a clear, digestible way to know where the government’s money comes from -- and where it goes.  

First, the team started with an intuitive site navigation. Upon that they built a site using data visualization based on Microsoft Azure and SQL Server that helps make the data not just accessible, but comprehensible. A REST API is built in .NET for the backend, while the frontend is built in React and Victory, with Lunr JavaScript search technology. PowerBI allows people to mix and match their own data sets and visualizations.

GIF_31

"We put the data there in an orchestrated way so people can find it and create their own analysis."

Steve Ballmer, Co-Founder, Ballmer Group

A Truly Customizable User Experience

The framework organizes the information around the central missions of government:

  • Establishing justice
  • Ensuring domestic tranquility
  • Providing for the common defense
  • Promoting the general welfare
  • Securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity

usafactssankey

Visitors to the site start exploring the data at the highest level possible: overall revenue and spending. From there, they can dive deeper into more specific subject areas, like education or defense spending. Within these categories, users can dial in on the data from different perspectives and through different filters, drawing their own conclusions and forming a deeper understanding of government impact. 

 

GIF-3

USAFacts looks nothing like its bureaucratic counterparts or startups like OpenGov, which also tries to organize and parse government data. Its typeface is pleasingly legible. The site navigation is intuitive. But most importantly, Artefact [and GenUI] have made dry facts and figures actually feel engaging.

Wired Magazine, 2017

More than 2.5 million people visited the USAFacts site within the first 24 hours. Since that time, USAFacts has made some incredible updates to the experience and their reach:  

  • April 2020 - Produced the 2020 Government 10-K.
  • March 2020 - Launched a USAFacts Coronavirus Hub including a county-by-county map detailing the spread of the disease completely unique to USAFacts, updated daily.
  • February 2020 - Analyzed 40 years of State of the Union speeches to find the most-covered issues and published the numbers behind the popular topics. 
  • December 2019 - Produced the 2019 Government 10-K.
  • May 2018 - Partnered with Countable, and launched the USAFacts Action Center.
  • January 2019 - Produced the 2018 Government 10-K.
  • December 2018 - Teamed up with GeekWire to launch a new podcast called Numbers Geek.
  • November 2018 - Released Part Two of the State of the Facts Poll highlighting that Americans are increasingly worried that divisions in our country are driven more by using different facts than by holding different beliefs. 
  • September 2018 -  launched a Voter Center, the first site of its kind to show the public positions of U.S. House and Senate candidates in the context of data on those issues.
  • January 2018 - Produced the 2017 Government 10-K.
  • July 2017 - Released inaugural State of the Facts Poll highlighting Americans’ concern about biased sources, manipulated sources, and foreign government misinformation.