Where Does Your Tax Money Go?

Country/area: Belgium

Organisation: De Tijd

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 06/10/2021

Credit: Thomas Segers, Thomas Roelens, Raphael Cockx, Dieter Dujardin, Wouter Vervenne, Pieter Blomme


Thomas Roelens — Head of datajournalism @ De Tijd

Thomas Roelens — Datajournalist

Raphael Cockx — Newsroom developer

Dieter Dujardin — Politicial Journalist

Pieter Blomme — Senior editor

Project description:

In the digital article ‘Where does your tax money go?’ we tried to offer readers an overview about government spending. The Belgian government lacks a central platform where this information in easily available in a comprehensive way. Although we wanted to fill this information gap, we were reticent to just drop all the numbers in one visualisation. We still strove to fulfil our role as a newspaper and guide our readers through the story.

Impact reached:

The article was published in November 2021, during the parliamentary debates about the budget for the coming year. Because the numbers for 2020 weren’t available we focussed on the government spending from 2000 to 2019, using this period as a summary of all the structural features of Belgian government spending. The data revealed a pattern of skewed expenses due to our complex federal structure, high government debt, shattered land use and ageing population. All of these were often mentioned before but for the first time they became visible in a comprehensive visualisation.

The article became our nr 1 best read interactive of the year, gained a lot of traction of social media and sparked the debate about government spending spiralling out of control.


Techniques/technologies used:

The data was collected from the national bank of Belgium. Analysis of these figures was done in R while the visualisation was entirely created with javascript and d3.js. Two data journalists from our datateam first wrote a draft themselves and then passed it to one of the senior political writers in order to add hooks to the current political debate.

For the translation to print an export of the svg was made and the final annotations were added in illustrator. 

What was the hardest part of this project?

The most striking part of the project is that we were the first to create a central visualisation of Belgian government spending. Although such dashboard exist in many neighbouring countries this was still lacking in Belgian media. Rather than just copy one of those platforms we crafted a custom story ourselves, staying close to the central function of our newspaper: giving insight and guidance through the noise.

The creation of the visualisations and scrollytelling format was daunting but luckily we can rely a shared expertise and many internal examples that were created during the past couple of years. This allowed us to create the visualisation in no more than a week with no more than 4 journalists.

What can others learn from this project?

In our view, the role of a newspaper is different from a statistical (governmental) organisation. Although we encourage the trend of recent years to publish the data and methods behind a dataproject we still want to focus on telling stories, rather than building dashboards or datadumps.

Project links: