The Freedom of Expression

visualizing how the world is doing on the freedom of expression for Article 19

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The Expression Agenda Report 2017


October & November 2017


Article 19


R, Illustrator, D3.js


Data gathered by Article 19 together with the social science database V-Dem


Article 19’s new Expression Agenda (XpA) metric gives a comprehensive picture of the state of freedom of expression and information internationally in 2016. The metric examines 350 aspects of democracy in 172 countries to provide an analysis that captures the challenges and complexity of the freedom expression across the world.

By examining freedom of expression through this holistic approach, a far deeper understanding can be achieved of the benefits, risks and global trends that impact on the ability of everyone to raise their voice and be heard, regardless of sex, gender, ethnicity, race or religion.

Global trends from XpA metric show that media freedom is at its lowest level in ten years. Turkey, Brazil, Bangladesh, Burundi and Macedonia are experiencing significant decline in free speech over the past years while Tunisia, Kyrgyzstan, Romania and Sri Lanka all evidence progress.


On November 30th, Freedom of expression organization, ARTICLE 19, planned the release of their new yearly “Freedom of Expression” metric. Together with V-Dem they had gathered information on many metric and combined these into 5 “pillars” that together form the total metric. To accompany the report they wanted a data visualization that would not be a standard collection of charts. Not something that fills page after page with the same chart, each for a different country. Instead, they wanted a visualization that could be holistically viewed, understood and then more closely inspected per country. And finally, something that would draw in their audience and look beautiful!

After several initial talks about the goals of Article 19 and receiving the data, I created several possible designs for them. From one large circular visualization, to a small multiple approach that used mini radar-like charts. After discussing these, we found the “small multiple radar charts” to fit best with the different uses for the eventual visualization. With the data already prepared by V-Dem I quickly started out creating the radar charts with d3.js. To also be able to see countries that had low values in each of the 5 pillars, the design transformed towards radar charts that shared a baseline, thereby looking more like stars. However, this was, visually, not fitting the message that Article 19 wanted to convey. I therefore adopted the circle design. Having a circle at the end of 5 “spokes”, which would be smaller in size and darker in color as the value of that pillar was smaller.

The older star radar chart based design

For the general placement of all countries I first wanted to group them into broad regions, and place these approximately to their geographical centers. However, this was visually not quite working out. Therefore, I suggested the so-called “beeswarm” technique in which I cluster the countries according to their average value across the 5 pillars. With the countries doing the best at the top and the worst at the bottom. After testing the idea with the real data, this gave such an insightful final image that there was no doubt that it fitted perfectly.

Since there are many countries, to be able to see a large portion on the screen they had to be made quite small. To still be able to investigate 1 country, I implemented a hover technique: When the mouse trails over a country, it animates to become much bigger, and thereby readable.

For the press release itself I also made a version where the placement of all the countries was in a horizontal direction, and a version for 2006 to be compared with the (final) 2016 results. Thankfully the press release was a big success, with the report and the visualization being very well received by the governments and journalists present. Article 19 was asked to present the visual and findings at several other governments straight after the presentation.