Inaugural Meeting of the Policy Visualisation Network

[Originally published on the Australian Government Public Sector Innovation Network under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

On 25 September the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) hosted the first meeting of the Policy Visualisation Network, an open forum for sharing how visualisation can be used to tackle policy challenges. Nick Morgan (PM&C) opened the meeting and outlined that the forum would aim to meet quarterly and be used to

    • promote knowledge across the Australian Public Service
    • share techniques and experiences
    • disseminate some of the innovations that are happening in this quickly-developing field.

Nick outlined how visualisation can help the aspects of the policy process including:

    • analysis – e.g. by helping us see patterns
    • advising – e.g. helping us communicate a current or alternate state of affairs or using a conceptual diagram that captures a complex issue
    • engagement – e.g. communicating in an accessible way to the broader community.

[1. Image of overlapping circles of information visualisation, graphics and visual display, facilitation and overlapping circles of policy analysis, policy advising, and policy engagement. Adapted from Professor Evert Lindquist’s 2011 HC Coombs Policy Forum Discussion Paper “Grappling with Complex Policy Challenges: exploring the potential of visualization for analysis, advising and engagement” accessed at]

The meeting included presentations from five agencies:

    • Nick Morgan (PM&C) spoke about how the Strategy and Delivery Division uses graphical tools to convey complex policy matters across issues like water, industry, education and climate
    • Duncan Byrne from the CSIRO told us about the CSIRO’s prototype for visualising innovation data
    • Michael West from the Office of the Chief Scientist spoke about visualising Australian and international research activity (which can be very data heavy), including through the use of tools such as Processing and Circos.

There were some very interesting examples and for someone like me who tends to be rather text-focussed in their work it was a great illustration of the power of visualisation approaches.

Over the coming weeks the network will launch a website highlighting examples of best practice visualisation, allow users to upload current visualisation projects for group feedback, include a blog for discussion and links to some open source visualisation tools. In the coming months the network will look to expand to expand to State and Territory government (from which strong interest has already been received).

For those who are interested in new, and potentially better, ways of communicating I highly recommend considering joining the network.