Data Storytelling: Using Quill to Translate Chicago's Budget Data

September 24, 2015 Dan Platt

data storytelling

Earlier this week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel released the proposed budget for the 2016 fiscal year. Coinciding with the Mayor’s address to the City Council, the budget was published on the city’s open data portal. Through this portal, citizens can download the data and utilize some of the visualization features to create their own charts and graphs.

While this is a great sign of transparency, it can still be difficult for the common citizen to understand the meaning that exists in those 3000+ rows of data. One may have some simple questions that a CSV may not be able to answer. And furthermore, creating a visualization may require too many clicks and a certain skillset to understand what the data means.

Telling Chicago's Data Story with Quill

This is where Quill saves the day! On the same day the budget was released, we used Quill to ingest the data and automatically generate a narrative summary. This story answers simple questions that a citizen may have like ‘Who is getting the most money?’ or ‘Who is getting more/less money than last year?’ Quill is able to answer these questions in plain English without requiring the audience to understand aggregations and pivot tables.

And lastly, once we set up the platform to write an insightful narrative about municipal budgets, we can write about any city or town so long as the data is structured the same way.

And now, the story of Chicago’s 2016 budget:

2016 Chicago Budget Tidbits

The City of Chicago's 2016 budget recommends an amount of $10.04 billion, an increase of 15.56% from the 2015 revised figure of $8.69 billion. The department with the largest recommended amount is "Finance General" with $4.45 billion, an increase of 6.84% from the 2015 revised amount of $4.16 billion.

Inside the department, the account type "Employee Annuity And Benefit" accounts for $978.3 million of the total. The department with the largest increase in its budget from 2015 is "CDOT," which is seeing its total rise 244.04% to $576 million from $167.4 million.

Within the department, the largest spending account is “Construction of Buildings and Structures” at $365.9 million. The department with the largest decrease from 2015 is "Board of Election Commissioner" which is seeing its total fall 42.21% to $14.8 million from $25.6 million.

Across the city overall and all its departments, the largest account type for spending is "Salaries and Wages - On Payroll" at $2.69 billion or 26.77% of the overall budget.

Automating Analysis

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