The increased circulation of infographics among the legislative branch could be affecting the way in which political decisions are made.
Congress is elected to represent the people and cast votes on their behalf in regards to policy and law. Many of the bills and issues brought before Congress for a vote are well outside the areas of expertise of the individual Congress members, yet they are still expected to cast an informed vote.
Unfortunately, many of the reports and documents informing Congress may never be thoroughly read since they’re hundreds of pages long and bogged down in technical data. The problem, however, may not be the data itself, but how it’s presented. Hopefully, Jonathan Schwabish has found a better way.
Schwabish is an economist in the Congressional Budget Office and, as such, is part of the team that provides Congress with the research, simulations, and data used in making fiscal policy decisions. After attending a brief workshop with infographic pioneer Edward Tufte, Schwabish has been increasingly applying those skills learned to produce more efficient visuals and infographics for Congress – supplying top-level information quickly in supplementation to the lengthy technical reports.
We ask what is the base fact? What is the single sentence, the headline, you want people to know?
As Schwabish bluntly states, “Members of Congress want that number right away,” as opposed to wading through 70 pages of minutiae. While, admittedly, a one-page infographic doesn’t adequately distill all the relevant and necessary data found in a complete report, it does provide an avenue to better inform those Congressmen and women who would have otherwise never read the report in the first place or found it difficult to wade through.
In this vein, Schwabish is developing ‘Snapshots,’ which are “bite-sized charts that could be printed on 4″ x 6″ index cards” and represent a singular, core idea.
While, theoretically, the increased use of infographics could better inform elected representatives as a whole and possibly streamline the bureaucratic process, there is a downside. Lurking is the fear and possibility that this system of infographics could discourage the reading of actual reports and enable those elected officials to continue skating by, never fully understanding or rectifying the issue. Cliff notes are good, but the original work is better.
On the whole this appears to be a promising development, and it will be interesting to see how increased infographic use on the Congressional floor will impact political decisions, if at all.