Soaring inflation has hit every wallet in 2022. From groceries to gas and to rent, everything is more expensive than it was three years ago. The objective of our project was to visualize the fluctuations for ten of the most common consumer sectors, from January 2020, and to follow them (with a monthly update of data from Statistics Canada) to see where prices would stabilize first this year. All graphs are accompanied by explanations putting the data into context.
Our inflation project became a reference for viewing Statistics Canada data on the consumer price index on one page. It quickly puts forward the figures that matter (variation over 12 months for about ten consumption sectors) and allows people to see on graphs the fluctuations over a period of three years. It even offers additional visualizations by sub-categories or by province, since it is a national project.
Each of the sections also gets detailed explanations, the result of an extensive research to allow Internet users to understand the price variations over time. Our project was not only a reference when it was published, but also remains relevant over time, since it is updated monthly, on the same day the federal agency releases its data. This is a good example of a public service project, at the service of people, which is continuously updated as new data becomes available. At the same time, we have developed a mini dashboard presenting the key data of our project, which can be integrated into every Radio-Canada’s articles on inflation or on the country’s economic situation. It is therefore a tool that can support the work of other journalists in the newsroom.
We chose to open our project with a heat map, showing at a glance where prices rose the most or fell the most (or stayed the same). The project then continues with a dashboard that effectively summarizes the price variations of all consumer goods and services in Canada, then for ten categories that we have chosen to put forward for their interest. Each of the categories is then broken down into graphics and additional explanations. We used our custom API to scrape all the data needed from Statistics Canada and also to return it to the web page.
All the elements of the project were developed using a variety of technologies, including Node.js, React.js, GraphQL, D3 and Material UI. It is designed to be as easy to use on a computer as on all mobile devices. An anchor navigation system has also been incorporated to browse into the article more quickly or more easily. A widget has also been developed so that the dashboard presenting the summary of our data could be added into any economic news article, with the aim of bringing Internet users back to our project if they wish to obtain more information. Finally, we created our own illustrations for each of the sections and made our own iconography from them. Everything has been imagined, designed and illustrated by our own team with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, to offer an inviting, colorful and instructive environment.
Context about the project:
Our project was published after several consecutive months of rising prices. The initial objective was to visualize how prices had evolved during the pandemic, then when the economy recovered. Ultimately, we wanted people to understand where we were at now. It came at the right time, early december 2022, as all the experts were predicting that the economic situation should return to normal in the course of the year coming, or, at the latest, in 2024. This is why we opted for a project which would be updated monthly with new data. This makes it not only a reference article, lasting over time, but which is also a tool for monitoring the Canadian economic situation, both for the public and the experts who study the issue closely.
We used data from Statistics Canada’s Consumer Price Index. One of the challenges, however, was to select the most relevant data to offer readers, as well as the consumption categories that we were going to prioritize, based on their evolution over the past few months. We have presented the selected data in a more user-friendly and accessible way for the reader, in addition to allowing them to visualize the data using graphs. The objective was the same for social networks, and this is why our project also comes each month with the publication of an Instagram album presenting key data related to the Consumer Price Index.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
Service journalism is important, and it finds a place of choice with the public, especially when it comes to prices and personal finances. Finding the right subject allowed us to deploy it into a project that would become a reference article. Monthly updates also made it possible to build loyalty, as well as to acquire a wider audience. It’s also important with data journalism to not just be tossing numbers around, but to put them with the visualizations and context necessary to fully understand trends in the economy. It is a complex subject, but an important one in times of inflation.
The development of our project has allowed us to rethink the delivery of data covered each month by many media, including Radio-Canada, with Statistics Canada releases. We came up with what we felt was the most effective way to present the data. In addition, we came up with a widget derived from our project that could be used for regular coverage. This way of thinking also helped us to imagine our project as a basis for recurrent publications on social networks, which people would recognize and expect from month to month. The album we designed features Statistics Canada data that we weren’t used to see on Instagram. This is another way to expand our audience as well as the reach of our overall project.