Project description

The BBC’s data team is part of the wider Visual and Data Journalism Department. Its goal is to find original news stories, to explain long-running topics in the news, and also to more generally help people better understand the world around them, using data and data visualisations.

The team is made up of data journalists, data scientists, statisticians, developers and designers. We cover the whole news agenda, including both foreign and domestic news.

The BBC is a public service broadcaster and as such it has a mission to report the news impartially, to as wide a range of different audiences as possible. Data journalism fits into this mission by giving the BBC the skills to work with complex datasets that can help hold public bodies to account, track government performance and find news stories that otherwise may go untold.

The data team sometimes works on its own projects but most often it works with other departments and teams across the BBC to provide expertise when working with data.

Over the past year covered by the GEN awards our team has done original reporting on the performance of UK police forces, the UK\’s gender pay gap, the National Health Service and foreign language take up in secondary schools. We have also revealed where the best place to be young is in Britain and how the rental market performs for people in their twenties. We have looked at how well people are able to understand the terms and conditions technology companies put forward for their services and how our diet can affect climate change. We have also helped our audiences track how their MPs have voted in more than 10 different parliamentary votes held on Brexit, during the period covered by the awards. We include one vote in the links below as an example.

What makes this project innovative?

Innovation is fundamental to data journalism. It is a discipline whose capabilities expand as technology improves. Projects from our portfolio that typify this spirt of innovation include, Where to live if you’re young. This story was an original piece of work that took datasets on 11 different topics, including rent, employment and entertainment and wove them together to create a unique index covering hundreds of local authorities in Britain. The index was original to the BBC and ranked which parts of the country were best and worst for people under 26. In the past year we have also taken strides in changing our workflows. We have been scripting much of our data analysis now for several years, but we have also begun scripting our graphics too. This has allowed us to turn round graphics much more quickly than before, as we have started to use R, not just for data analysis but also as a way of making graphics publication ready. We have shared some of the scripts we use to do this by making them open source, and we have set out our ideas on this topic in this Medium post.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

One main measure of success for the team’s work is how well it works across the BBC’s many different outlets; the aim being to reach as many as possible of the different audiences served by the BBC’s different platforms and programmes. Although the data team is primarily web-based, the BBC has its foundations in broadcast media. So, when we produce a story, ideally it will not just appear online, but it will also be broadcast on BBC TV and BBC radio. This is partly as data analysis and data visualistion can be a time consuming process, so to make sure that value for money is achieved we aim to see our original content used by lots of different parts of the BBC. So, for example a large data project may produce a national headline and therefore be used for stories on national BBC TV News or documentaries, but if we can cut the same data for regional BBC TV output then our stories reach more audiences and tell more diverse stories. Projects from our portfolio that typify this approach include, Police Under Pressure, Where to live if you’re young, and The hospitals that fail to treat people on time. We also follow this principle when working on international stories. For example, our climate change web app, Climate change food calculator - what’s your carbon footprint? was translated into more than 10 languages, other than English. Many of the stories listed in our portfoilo were also picked up by other media outlets and in the case of Police under Pressure -, it was cited by the UK Parliament, in paragraph 14 of this webpage. .

Source and methodology

Methodologies and sources for each story are described on their relevant webpage.

Technologies Used

Our team uses the data journalism staples of R, Python and spreadsheets. We also use JavaScript, D3 and Adobe Creative Cloud. We use QGIS and for several projects in this entry we have used the Ordnance Survey’s open mapping data, Zoomstack.

Project members

BBC Visual and Data Journalism team.


Additional links


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