The Brief

Develop a digital tool that helps journalists to understand and communicate economic data more confidently. Initially the focus is on displaying and comparing data by London boroughs, though Economy intends to grow the geographic scope in time.

Demonstrate to Economy’s funders that there is a need for this tool, and that they should invest in further features and development rounds.

Economy had an initial prototype developed by residents of SPACE4, Founders and Coders, using JavaScript and React. However, the Economy team couldn’t access or edit the backend and were looking for guidance from Outlandish to develop this aspect of the tool in particular, so that their team could have more control.

The Client

Economy have been part of the SPACE4 community since September 2021, so we were delighted when they came knocking on our door for their digital development needs. Economy is a charity that helps to demystify the economy for the public. They work to empower conversations and inform narratives around data. 

Economy’s vision is of a flourishing and sustainable society in which there is diverse and inclusive public conversation about the economy. They build tools that help everybody to make personal choices confidently; articulate their needs, values and priorities; take action to shape the economy and participate in democracy.

Our Solution

We rebuilt Economy’s tool so that their team could more easily keep their tool up to date with relevant data for journalists. We started with 3 main purposes:

  1. Add a backend rich-text editor that allows the Economy team to add and update explainers for the data visualisations
  2. Add more datasets and visualisations that are useful to journalists
  3. Improve the UX of the site with design tweaks

In addition, Outlandish created this video to present the tool and vision to a wider community and potential funders, you can watch it below:

The Tech

Sanity: With limited time and a lot of tasks for our sprint, we wanted to avoid deploying another copy of WordPress and adding avoidable organisational and tech complexity. With short, structured copy needing to be editable by Economy, we decided to use Sanity to provide a quick, free, lightweight headless CMS with a hosted editing interface we didn’t have to deploy ourselves.

DataWrapper: We built on, refactored and applied bug fixes to the DataWrapper callouts in the existing prototype we built upon. Their API and support helped us improve the stability of chart rendering and to avoid spending time reinventing the wheel for rendering of common chart types.

Next.js: We stuck with the Next.js + React stack used for the prototype we inherited, focusing on small refactorings and improving developer experience to speed up future sprints and work by any additional developers.

AWS ECS: We ran the app on ECS: to get it live in infrastructure we could integrate with Continuous Integration as quickly as possible; and to ensure that some of the necessary work to get the project working as intended on new developer machines would also speed up configuration of backing services in Production. Setting up Docker containers and better isolating dependencies left us with an app that’s a lot quicker to bootstrap and whose dependencies are easier to understand vs. what we had at the start of the sprint.

Going Forward

For now, future sprints are paused pending further funding. If you are interested in supporting projects that help to democratise data and information or wish to learn more about Economy’s work please get in touch.