Understanding Policy Recommendations through Interactive Data Visualization

The Belt and Road Initiative

Overview

Launched in 2013, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a highly ambitious development effort that integrates infrastructure projects across over 70 countries. Estimated at a value of more than $1 trillion in Chinese investment, the BRI is arguably China's broadest economic engagement effort with the rest of the world — enhancing its connectivity through Southeast, South, Central, and West Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America. The Asia Society Policy Institute launched Navigating the Belt and Road Initiative, an online project that examines the initiative with the aim of providing actionable recommendations to ensure beneficial and sustainable BRI outcomes. To help the Asia Society Policy Institute accomplish this, Schema designed and developed an interactive matrix to explore the 12 recommendations.

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Process

Schema was given a data table containing the recommendations and their descriptions, and tasked with presenting it in a more engaging, interactive format. The first challenge was to brainstorm how to visualize the 12 recommendations, and the process started by examining the data for overlapping themes; such themes could serve as a simpler framework for understanding the key objectives of the recommendations, and inform how the viewer might best digest the information.

This collaborative examination revealed 5 underlying themes within the recommendations (Open, Green, Collaborative, Affordable, and Clean), around which a radial network diagram was designed, depicting how each theme correlates to the recommendations. The radial network design was chosen since it communicates the complex connections between the higher level themes and the individual recommendations, such as which themes are more present than others throughout the recommendations. Since the radial diagram is the most interactive content on the page, it serves as the site centerpiece and as the navigation menu, allowing users to dig deeper into each recommendation and learn more about the Asia Society’s proposed actions. Additionally, the matrix was designed to fit within Asia Society’s existing site design and layout, so that it could be easily integrated.

Finally, to expand upon the themes and recommendations, the diagram was integrated with additional information sections so that the user could further explore and engage with the details of each recommendation.

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Outcome

The final deliverables were custom visualization and code that the Asia Society Policy Institute could easily integrate into their existing site design.

The radial network was designed with the overarching themes in the center, surrounded by the 12 recommendations. The links between the themes and recommendations are color-coded, and the user can hover over either element to see the individual connections. Additionally, if the user hovers over a theme, its description appears in a pop-up. When a user clicks on an outer matrix node and selects a specific recommendation, the page immediately scrolls down and displays additional details about the selected recommendation. This interactivity and information structure is present for each recommendation within the matrix, so that the user can understand them from the standpoint of 4 key questions: how it would work, what it would accomplish or prevent, China’s development practices, and related international best practices and standards.

Overall, the matrix visualization design displays complex, text-heavy data in a visual, digestible manner, allowing users to explore the visualization in both a compartmentalized and a systematic manner. The matrix’s interactivity allows users to gain an understanding of each recommendation, as well as of the larger themes around which it centers.

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