Depicting the Need for Systems Change

World Resources Institute / 2022 / Environment & Climate Change

A radial diagram showcasing hundreds of indicators, used to track progress on solving the climate crisis. Designed by Graphicacy for World Resources Institute, as part of their Systems Change Lab data platform


Curbing global warming, halting the loss of biodiversity, and building a just and equitable economy are among the world’s most pressing needs. To track progress and reveal systemic obstacles to reaching these goals, World Resources Institute (WRI), the Bezos Earth Fund, and a team of partner organizations created the wide-ranging Systems Change Lab data platform. The platform visualizes a path forward in improving global systems sparking bolder action. Systems Change Lab worked with Graphicacy and interactive agency Outright to help bring this platform to life.

Background & Challenge

Launched at the COP27 climate conference, the Systems Change Lab platform includes data dashboards, narrative pages, and other content allowing users to monitor progress, learn and share pathways to change systems, and encourage bolder action. The platform is organized around the world’s major systems, from food to finance, transport to good governance. Five systems are currently live on the site, and the final platform will include data from more than a dozen systems.

Systems Change Lab researchers identified a set of critical shifts that are needed within systems to help spur transformational change. Each shift displays a set of indicators that measure progress toward science-based targets, and a set of indicators that monitor factors that can enable or prevent progress toward these targets. This provides a framework of the current state of play and level of action needed to transform a system.

The challenge was explaining multiple components of a system to users and allowing them to find insights at any level. Graphicacy and Outright made that complexity coherent with an overall site design that encouraged exploration, and created summary visualizations at each step of the way. There are dedicated pages for each System and each Shift, and every page follows a consistent design language of color coding and icons.

Opportunity & Solution

In addition to the narrative pages, the Graphicacy and Outright teams created a dashboard section meant for power users, showing in a concise way the breadth of the data within the platform. The user has options to view all the data at once as a circular diagram called the pinwheel, or in a small multiple display called the grid view. The pinwheel paints an overarching picture of all the systems at once, while the grid enables user-controlled filtering and searching for specific indicators.

While the pinwheel concept had been part of the site design since the beginning, the design team re-worked it through many iterations to make it understandable and usable. “For the pinwheel, the design team helped us visualize new possibilities at a point where we’d been stuck,” said Cathline Dickens, Product Manager for Systems Change Lab. “We landed on an end product that was much easier to understand.” Interactivity helps bring the pinwheel to life: clicking on any wedge to expand it and show details in a sidebar.

The pinwheel was just one design that Graphicacy and Outright translated into a working product. The team reimagined all the data visualization elements across the site, and provided engineering solutions that allowed the team to easily add or update indicators. “The Graphicacy and Outright teams were there for the beauty as well as the bugs,” said Cathline, “working on the fly and fixing issues quickly and efficiently.”

A montage of visualizations created for WRI's Systems Change Lab platform, designed by Graphicacy

“We’re trying to find a compelling way to visualize data across multiple systems into a single platform. It’s been essential having Outright and Graphicacy work with us hand-in-hand to figure out how to bring systems change to life.”

Cathline Dickens, Product Manager for Systems Change Lab

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