Visualizing the rule of law

We recently worked with the World Justice Project to update the Rule of Law Index. The Rule of Law Index tracks how the rule of law is experienced and perceived in more than a 100 countries.

Originally built in 2014 on backbone.js, the app has aged pretty well. Back then, one of the biggest design challenges was condensing 8 factors and 44 indicators into a single composite indicator (CI) to visualize the status of a country as a whole.

Generally, the Scandinavian countries top the index each year. This year, Denmark took the honors. I like that the CI for Denmark instantly communicates a sense of good health. With a little further inspection, you can see that the Danes still have some work to do around Criminal Justice, but generally the picture is pretty good.

This 2018 composite indicator for Denmark

Things look a whole lot less healthy when we compare it to Venezuela (the lowest performing country this year). The CI instantly communicates a lot of fragmentation with uneven shards and we can see that they score highest in Order and Security (specifically indicator 5.2 absence of civil conflict). Interestingly, If conditions in Venezuela continue to worsen, we’ll likely see a decline there as well.

This 2018 composite indicator for Venezuela

The other challenge was developing a country profile that could communicate scores for all 8 factors and 44 indicators, whilst maintaining enough page real estate to give prominence to the CI. An additional layer of complexity was that the profile also needed to be exportable to a single page PDF (allowing the entire index to be bulk exported and printed with minimal fuss each year).

The 2018 country profiles for Denmark and Venezuela

Looking back on the original design (which is largely unchanged), I think the country profile does a decent job of communicating a lot of information whilst still maintaining the centrality of the CI. As you browse profiles on the site or flip though the printed publication, I find the CI provides a useful summary point of reference. If you flip though the pages quickly, it almost feel like an animated flip book.

I’m fascinated by the development of composite indicators, and I’m a particular fan of layouts that combine small multiples. Here’s the CI for each country in this year’s Rule of Law Index ordered by best to worst.

Small multiples view of composite indicators in the Rule of Law Index

This is my favorite view. I like the way that the CI almost takes on an icon like quality and that when you view them all side by side, you get a visual summary of every data point in the index, all 4,972 of them.

When you take into account that the data is based on thousands of individual interviews you get a sense for how much work it is to collect and aggregate each year and how many stories are waiting to be uncovered. Go find some.


Visualizing the rule of law was originally published in Maptian on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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