May 22, 2017, by Erik Larson

Creating "Living Reports"

Beyond Back-in-Time Impact Analysis

Economic impact reports are becoming more and more popular among trade associations and other organizations that need to show the value their industry brings to the economy. Often times lengthly a lengthly document (economists can be wordy), an economic impact report will quantify the job creation, economic output, multiplier effects and other metrics of an industry.

The trouble with traditional economic impact reports, however, is their "back-in-time" vantage point: most data used in the report comes from the prior year. Worse, depending on the timing of your report, the data may already be close to two years old, given the lag in release time from federal data sources.

Our world runs on real-time information, creating an expectation of current information in nearly every setting.

What is a "living report" and how does it differ from a traditional one? Read on.

Data Inputs

Traditional reports are created from downloaded files, such as spreadsheets and CSVs. However, this publicly available data is also possible to access through web-based connections called APIs. Whereas a downloaded file is a static object (the data within it will not change unless acted upon), an API-based data source has the ability to be dynamic, periodically seeking the latest changes in the connected source.

I realize this sounds technical – on one level, it is. However, much of the data you already use everyday (for example the weather data in the app on your phone) is coming to you via API. From business systems to iPhones, our world is increasingly reliant on APIs to run.

This is an example of data coming to you via API, a map of companies in the Technology sector in Oregon:


Ah hah! Now that the data is coming to us live, there is so much more we can do with it. In a traditional report we show tables, charts, bullet points – even infographics. But we can't interact with it as a viewer, and we can't change anything. With interactivity comes the all-important engagement, the true measure of our effectiveness as communicators.

Would you rather sit down to a 50-page PDF, or play with a dynamic screen of information that allows you to explore as you learn? Your audience, with few exceptions, is seeking the latter.

This is an example of an interactive chart, which allows you to display different data.

Set It And Forget It

With automation comes time and cost savings. A "living report," set up with live data feeds, means you don't have to commission a new report every year. That will save you staff time, lower outside consultant costs – and in many cases both.

As far as your audience is concerned, they won't have to wonder what current data show, since they're already looking at it. And, they'll be impressed! You'd be surprised how many different examples of economic analyses a policy maker is shown in the course of a year. Get ready to stand out!

This is a great example of a local story that had big impact with a Congressman from the area.

Ready to see a living report in action?

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