Making Information Simpler

January 2, 2020, 1:08 pm
Making Information Simpler

When we set out to create RI Rank, our main focus was on ease of use. We took a good look at the legislator scorecards that already exist – Common Cause, the ACLU, and the Environmental Council of RI to name a few – and made it our mission to do it better. We found that each organization had a couple of things in common:

1. Their legislative scorecards are hard to find.
2. The scorecards use monochromatic ratings grids that are hard to skim or quickly determine sentiment.
3. The scorecards offer just a specific subset of ratings tied to their mission, and only consider floor votes.

ECRI’s ratings grid, similar to others, uses similar looking monochrome symbols

The work these organizations do is very important, and their scorecards provide valuable insight into how our state Senators and Representatives vote. Voters should see these scorecards because it enforces accountability for our lawmakers, which is good for a healthy democracy. But great information that is hard to access or understand is of much less value to the average voter. With RI Rank, we worked to change that, ensuring every piece of information we provide is easy to understand and act on. A voter should be able to quickly drop on over to and look up their legislator’s record without needing to download a PDF, turn their head sideways, or jump back and forth between the scores and the explanation of the scores.

We invested a lot of time in the design and layout of our rankings pages and charts for ease of use. Each page is optimized for desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. Users will find no need to pinch/zoom or turn their phone to landscape mode in order to read any of the pages or rankings. Additionally, applicable columns are sortable (by score, district, and name) with tooltips that explain the meaning of each column by hovering over it. As we publish new rankings segments, we will continue to make small tweaks and introduce new features to make the information as easy to browse as possible.

While I serve as the sole designer on the web side of RI Rank, the information you see and this website as you know it would not exist without the incredible talents of Ryan Laughlin and Renee de Wolf. Ryan was instrumental in writing software for us that extracted voting data from the General Assembly website and public records archives. He easily saved us 100 hours or more, and we are very grateful for his work. Renee is our resident Data Scientist, charged with ensuring that our points weighting and scoring models are unbiased and fair to all elected officials. Her attention to detail and ability to identify the smallest nuances has made RI Rank multiple times better than it would have been without her.

I also want to thank the many unsung heroes who have helped us on questions about the workings of the General Assembly, helped promote RI Rank, and have provided feedback for how we can make it better. As much work as we have put into making RI Rank what it is, we are not perfect. The project will continue to evolve and we thank you for joining us as we strive to improve the accountability of our elected officials.