What exactly are you planning to do with our money? Using visual outcomes models to tell government's outcomes story

The public has a right to know what government intends to do

Few would disagree that the public,(Linkov 2009) and the civil society organisations(Norris 2011) that represent it in various ways, have a right to know what government is trying to do when it spends taxpayer’s money. This paper explores the role of visual outcomes models in making government intentions more transparent and quickly communicating them to the public and to stakeholders.

Many call for increased transparency from government [refs on this point], in addition to this being a basic democratic right, this is important for a number of reasons. Government being transparent about its intentions is likely to promote: more public confidence in government: decreased distrust; and less alienation from government. It may be that part of the current distrust of government is a result of it being hard for the population to know what it is that government is trying to do [refs on alientation from government and anything on why this is the case]. Increased clarity about its intentions is also likely to mean that government can claim credit for the work it does. Lastly, if government intentions are not clearly articulated and communicated, there is little chance that it can incite community mobilization in pursuit of outcomes it shares with the community.

What’s limiting the public currently find out what government’s intentions are?

Beyond the headlines, a member of the public attempting to find out what their government’s intentions are can currently face a difficult task. The answer is out there but it is just often well buried. Barriers such as the overwhelming amount, format, language including the arcane names and processes which are involved with its preparation all hinder public digestibility and access. Much government documentation setting out its intentions and outcomes tends to be: fragmented, voluminous, inaccessible, written in government speak, and hard to see both the big picture and to be able to drill down to the necessary detail.

Role of visual outcomes models in informing the public about government’s intentions

So what would good communication of government’s outcomes and intentions look like? The communication format would be: easy to access and understand; enable an overview of government intentions but also to quickly drill-down into the detail; able to be used by a range of stakeholders; and is flexible (in the sense of being able to be quickly amended and kept up to date).

Visual outcomes models provide a tool to meet each of these criteria as a way of communicating government intentions is discussed below.

Easy to access and understand

Ease of access is crucial if government is to actually communicate with the public. Good intentions, unless effectively communicated in accessible formats remain exactly as that - just good intentions. At the current time we are in the middle of an information communication revolution. Central to this revolution is increased use of visualization as a mode of presentation [References]. This is reflected in the old adage that ’a picture is worth a thousand words’ (REF QLD wetlands work?). This trend is obvious when one looks at the way in which information is now presented on the web where there is now extensive use of visualization. [references]

The traditional approach to communicating government’s planned outcomes is based on an assumed model of effective information delivery. This is that text-based documents will be accessed, read, understood, synthesised and a mental model constructed of what it is that government is trying to do. This approach relies of people being able to read lengthy, often convoluted and abstract documents and extract the essence of what is being said. The approach used in visual outcomes modeling is to simplify the information delivery process making it more effective and efficient in communicating large amounts of often complex information in visually simple formats. This can occur by those people involved in producing the documentation to simultaneously produce a visual model which can function as a type of external mental model for their audience.

If this can be done successfully with a visual outcomes modeling approach, then it is potentially a much more efficient way of people accessing what it is that government wants to do.

Overviewing and drilling-down

It is important that audiences are able to both overview what is being sought by government and for them to be able to immediately drill-down to the necessary detail on how government intends to act. A visual representation is a particularly effective way of doing this. Using a well structured visual outcomes model, it is easy for a reader to gain an overview of a governments intentions and to quickly drill-down within areas of interest. It is much harder to achieve this in a textual narrative document that is not designed for rapid interrogation of concepts such as cause and effect relationships or hierarchies of relationships between chapters or passages of text.

Able to be used by a range of stakeholders

Only a relatively small sub-set of possible audiences who want to find out about government intentions are comfortable with traditional long text-based forms of documentation. Those who are able to use them most effectively are those who have a fast reading speed and are used to extracting information from large bodies of text. The use of the novel approach of visual outcomes models is likely to be more convivial to a range of audiences currently excluded from the traditional approach to communicating government outcomes.


Visual outcomes models have the potential to be a more flexible form of documentation than traditional text-based documents. This is because they allow quick identification of the part of the model that needs to be changed and for just this part of the model to be changed. [probably needs more on this]. If a visual outcomes model is being used