Using visuals to provide information maps of EU investment progress

"By visualizing information, we turn it into a landscape that you can explore with your eyes, a sort of information map.
And when you’re lost in information, an information map is kind of useful"
                                           - David McCandless

Cohesion policy is the EU policy for supporting economic social and territorial catching up (reducing disparities).
It involves hundreds of investment programmes and cross border Interreg programmes in all EU Member States. The current investment programmes run over 10 years from 2014 until end 2023, covering multiple themes.
One of the objectives of the ESIF Open Data platform was to make the allocation and use of the investment financing more transparent and bring insights into the investments being made.
A very rich source of information on investment progress by theme, country, programme and fund is the dataset on "2014-2020 ESIF finances implemented".  This data story explains the way we use charts as investment information maps and presents tips on how to read these information maps so that you can gain greater insights. 

1. How do we track investment progress

All the charts we present on investment progress contain information on three variables:
  • Planned: Total budget of the programme, of the fund of for the theme. It represents the total planned investment volume including EU and national financing. The total can change over time within the rules on "reprogramming". 
  • Decided: The total financial resources allocated to decided (selected) projects (the value of the project pipeline decided at a specific date). 
  • Spent: The total investment expenditure reported to the programme managers by the selected / decided projects.

2. Meet the bullet chart family

The bullet charts were the first information maps developed to visualise the progress in delivering investments.  

2.1 Time series : progress over time

The time series chart pictured below appears on all pages - EU overview, theme, country, programme and fund. It shows annual snapshots displaying how the total planned investments is translated into decided projects (the project pipeline) and how the investments are then delivered through investment expenditure. Key elements in these charts are: 
  1. Links to i) the source data and ii) code to allow users to reuse the chart;
  2. The legend for the elements in the chart. (On the website the legends can be use to focus on one variable or more); 
  3. The "Period covered" show the latest reference date for the data presented (the cutoff date the data refers to, i.e. 31/12/2018);
  4. The "Refresh date" shows when the data was last update.

What does this time series chart tell us?

  • Spending follows after decisions on the selection of projects 
  • In this 10 year investment cycle the decision on project selection were slow to start, but by 2016 selection had picked up, and doubled again during 2017. 
  • Slow initial selection is bad news for initial spending but, by 2018, investment spending had picked up, and  on average represented nearly the total project decided volume reported by end 2016.
And here is the interactive version of the time series chart for all ESI Funds.

2.2 Comparing progress by fund 

Behind the overall EU investment progress the ESI funds show different rates of progress for decided and spending volumes.   On the theme and country pages you find filtered versions of this chart including the relevant funds. 
What does the chart tell us?
  • The different funds have variable rates of decided investment and expenditure over time.
  • For instance, the Cohesion Fund by mid-2019 was over 90% selection rate, whereas the spending rate at 31% was lower that the EU rate of 33%.
  • The Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) had the highest spending rate - over 50%. This is not a surprise as it was intended that the YEI be "front loaded" (i.e. delivered in the first years of the investment period). 
Notes:
1. the chart footnotes show that the decided data for EMFF and EAFRD is only available once a year. This in part explains some of the differences in decided rates for these funds.
2. In the case of the EMFF the programmes were adopted late in 2015, on average later than programmes under other ESI funds. 

2.3 Comparing progress by country 

One of the most popular uses of this data is to benchmark and compare investment progress by the different countries that benefit.

This chart below is initially ordered in relation to the rate of investments decided (selection) in the countries.   There are strong differences in relation to investment performance.   The EU benchmark for the decided rate is shown.
Live on the #ESIFOpenData site you can also deselect the planned and decided value to see the ranking of countries in terms of investment spending.  

3. Meet the scatterplot of the family

The bullet chart "information maps" provide us with a great insight into what is going on overall, how the average rates are were different by fund and country, and how they evolve over time. 
But we were not quite satisfied. We felt that there were patterns in the data that we were not seeing clearly.
Inspired by the famous presentation of Hans Rosling we realised that a scatterplot might be the way to more clearly reveal underlying trends in the data and present  richer information maps.
In late 2018 we published our first animated scatterplot charts to show the relationships between planned, decided and selected over time.
A detailed guide to how to use and read the scatterplots, also available by fund and theme,  is here.  

4. Where do I find the different charts? 

On different #ESIFOpenData pages you see members of the bullet chart family such as the time series, comparing progress by Fund and charts comparing data for all countries.
Here is a quick overview:

5. You met the charts, now meet the data!

The charts provided selected insights into investment progress. The underlying data contains a lot more detail on the specific programmes and investments themes. We also  publish datastories on specific themes with charts like the chart below.  Using such charts you can
  • filter the data - see filter menu on top right of the chart
  • or, access the data clicking on the view data source. 

6. More information 

6.1 Contact 

REGIO-EVAL@ec.europa.eu - John WALSH , REGIO B2