11/5/2012

DJA nominee of the day: Verokuitti

 

The nominees for the 2012 edition of the Data Journalism Awards (DJA) were announced on 27 April at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. In this series of posts we are featuring the 57 nominated projects one by one in order to tell the story behind each project. Every day we are showcasing a different project from the six categories of the competition.

 

"The numbers of the Finnish government's budget are so senselessly large that they are almost meaningless. The money the state spends is nonetheless your money, so the general public should be aware of how it is being spent," writes the team behind Verokuitti in the DJA application form. 

Verokuitti (Finnish for "tax receipt") entered the Data Journalism Awards in the category Data-Driven Applications (national/international). The application shows the Finnish tax payer what they have contributed to various areas of government spending. Anyone can access the website (in Finnish) or navigate the English version, enter their monthly gross income and get their own personalized tax receipt. "We thought that the best way to visualize the tax payers' contribution to the state was through a normal receipt as you would get from a grocery store," explains the team.

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A detailed personalised tax receipt for former MP Jyrki Kasvi

50.000 people (1% of Finland's population) used the application within 24 hours of its launch. The project received attention from the government, traditional media and the Finnish open data movement as well. Verokuitti is now widely used as an example of a successful application of open data in public administration.

Marketing expert Pär Österlund, data wrangler Kari Silvennoinen and web designer Jon Haglund worked independently in their spare time over a period of two months to create this application. Their goal was to generate discussion around government expenditure and to raise awareness of it in a segment of the public that would not normally be interested in state budget matters. Their core philosophy was "if the information is presented in a compelling way, more Finnish taxpayers would be interested in what happens in the government." 

The main data source for this project was the government budget as published by the Finnish Ministry of Finance. To better illustrate some aspects, Silvennoinen, Österlund and Haglund used other public data sources as well, including from Statistics Finland, Eurostat, the Finnish Tax Authority and the Finnish Transport Safety Agency. A complete list of the sources used is available on the project website.

A lot of work involving Excel, R and Ruby went into cleaning and getting the data into a usable format, while web programming and design skills were essential for putting the data online. Finally, marketing and social media skills were required to make the service interesting and to attract visitors: Facebook and Twitter were essential tools in spreading the message.

When asked about the biggest challenges met during the preparation of the project, the team pointed out three main issues: (1) making the data accessible in an easy to understand format to people who had little or no idea of how the government works, (2) accurately estimating tax distribution on an individual taxpayer level and, last but not least, (3) gain visibility, which was achieved mainly through social media.

Advice for aspiring data journalists:

"Go big. Keep it simple."

 

The Data Journalism Awards is a Global Editors Network initiative supported by Google and organized in collaboration with the European Journalism Centre. Please visit the Data Journalism Awards website for the full list of nominees.

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