Mapping Australia’s childcare blackspots

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Australia

Publishing organisation: ABC News

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-03-21

Language: English

Authors: Inga Ting, Alex Palmer and Katia Shatoba


Inga Ting is a data journalist, Alex Palmer is a designer and Katia Shatoba is a developer. All three are in ABC News’ Digital Story Innovations team.

Project description:

Childcare was a key battleground in the 2022 federal election, with both major parties promising to slash the cost for parents.

This story exposed the massive divide in access to early education in Australia by bringing to life exclusive data from the first-ever project to map childcare availability in 57,400 Australian neighbourhoods — virtually every neighbourhood in the country.

Impact reached:

This story sparked significant public debate, and helped to shape national childcare policy in the lead up to the May 2022 federal election. It also had a strong impact at the local level, with specific communities benefiting from an injection of funding for childcare in their neighbourhoods.

Specific outcomes included:

**On the day of publication…**

* The federal government sought a briefing on the report from lead researcher Peter Hurley
* The federal opposition party (at the time, the Australian Labor Party) committed to including childcare access and cost in its proposed productivity commission review
* Nationals Party MP Adam Marshall discussed the report in detail in the Legislative Assembly, recounting a personal story of a staffer force to quit and calling for the New South Wales (NSW) government to take control of the sector

**Within two months of publication…**

* NSW Treasurer Matt Kean announced his government was shaping its childcare policy around the Mitchell Institute’s research
* The federal government announced funding for a childcare centre in Kingston, South Australia, identified in our report as having no childcare provision. (Following the ABC story, this had received widespread state-wide media coverage)
* Mitchell Institute met with the South Australian state government advisors about addressing the absence of childcare provision in parts of regional South Australia
* The Federal Senate Estimates Committee for Education and Skills in April dedicated significant time to discussing the issues raised in the report with department chiefs and Minister for Government Services Linda Reynolds
* The Australian Labor Party’s Early Childhood Education spokesperson Amanda Rishworth cited the Mitchell Institute research several times on the election campaign trail
* Multiple organisations sought data or project partnerships with the Mitchell Institute, including the NT Chamber of Commerce, Child Development Atlas WA, Rural Councils of Victoria, and Contact Inc.

Techniques/technologies used:

This project aimed to show users why the research mattered, not just tell them.

Rather than simply reporting the key findings, we combined Mitchell Institute data with ABS census data to create a series of maps and graphics that illustrated, through striking visuals, the stark link between access to childcare and broader disadvantage.

We combined these data-driven storytelling techniques with powerful case studies to bring home the impact on Australian families and show the reality of the story told by the data.

One of the risks of working with such a detailed dataset is that the audience becomes overwhelmed with information. To avoid this, we highlighted each state capital city and provided a short analysis of how that city’s unique demographic profile interacted with economic characteristics to affect access to childcare in different neighbouhoods within that city.

To make full use of the richness of the data, we also built an unprecedented database allowing users to look up any postcode or suburb in the country and explore statistics.

We deliberately placed this interactive towards the end of the story. Our intention was to demonstrate, through the static map series, the different ways the audience could use their own local knowledge to think about how the demographic profile of their neighbourhood influences childcare access, and vice versa.

Tools and technologies used included:
– Excel, Tableau Prep and Tableau for data cleaning, dataset blending, data analysis, mapping and scatterplot charts
– Datawrapper for basic charts
– Figma and Adobe Illustrator for UI + dataviz design
– Procreate and Adobe Photoshop for the header illustration
– HTML, CSS + JS and Illustrator for the comparative maps and smaller static charts
– HTML, CSS, JS with Deck.gl and custom Vector tiles for Australian geographical areas for interactive map.

Context about the project:

We completed this project in a far shorter timeframe than would usually be expected, so that we could publish it in the lead up to the March 2022 federal budget. This highly anticipated budget contained a number of promises related to childcare from both political parties.

The timing of this story helped to inject much-needed detail into the public debate. It also provided a resource for ordinary Australians to see the data for their own neighbourhood — something that had never been available before. This project continued to be referenced in policy debates and election promises right up to the May federal election.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

Academia is often criticised for failing to connect with the real world; academics themselves often lament that their research doesn’t reach enough people or trigger change as frequently as they would like.

On the other hand, the media is criticised for making claims that rest upon flimsy research (or worse, of making baseless claims with no foundation in research whatsoever).

This project shows the impact that can be achieved by combining the particular strengths of each of these instituations — specifically, the subject-matter expertise of academia and the storytelling expertise of the media.

Project links: