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2017 Power BI “Year in Review” data storytelling contest … and the winner is…

Headshot of article author Lukasz Pawlowski

The moment you’ve been waiting for is here! We received 37 total entries to the 2017 Power BI “Year in Review” data storytelling contest and they are fantastic! Our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who entered this contest, gave kudos to entrants or commented on the submissions.

We were truly humbled by the creativity, design and data analytics skills, the humor, and the passion for using Power BI that went into these reports, shedding light on timely subjects. Thank you for the energy you put into these entries, the insights you’ve surfaced about how you use, and would like to use, Power BI, and what would make it work better for you. We’re listening. Receiving this input from you – giving you a voice into what Power BI becomes – is one of the key reasons we periodically run these contests, and January’s contest was a resounding success.

“And now, the envelope please…”

In a unanimous decision by our three final judges, the contest winner and recipient of a brand new Microsoft Surface Pro, is:


North Korea – “Handle With Care”

By David Eldersveld, a data visualization and analytics consultant at BlueGranite and author of the DataVeld blog, which is largely devoted to Power BI optimization.

Image of a map showing the range of North Korean missiles. From Handle With Care, by David Eldersveld.


Using Power BI capabilities such as mapping integration, and the newly-introduced bookmarking and What If features, this report presents a very clear, comprehensible timeline of missile launch tests by North Korea over the last 34 years and illustration of its presumed current range.

Three data visualization experts acted as our contest final judges. They were:

  • Amir Netz, Technical Fellow, CTO of Power BI and Intelligence Platform at Microsoft
  • Troy Thibodeaux, Interactive Newsroom Technology and Data Journalism Team Editor at The Associated Press
  • Lukasz Pawlowski, Data Journalism Program Lead and Power BI Engineer at Microsoft

“It’s hard to imagine a more timely piece, and the deep dive into North Korea’s expanding missile capacity is informative and unnerving,” said Troy Thibodeaux, summarizing the perspectives of all three judges. “The visualization of the launch tests across different generations of leadership manages to illustrate several dimensions of data at once with admirable clarity. Overall, this report is informative, clearly designed and uses interactivity to good effect,” he said.

In his submission, David Eldersveld used the CNS North Korea Missile Test Database as his primary dataset (more information here), which can be downloaded as an Excel spreadsheet here. In my scoring, I praised finding and using a publicly-maintained dataset people might not otherwise be aware of, and the increased value of a report that can be set to stay current by simply scheduling a refresh of the data.

Amir Netz awarded the entry a perfect 10 in each of the four judging categories. A perfect score! Impressing Amir is impressive, too 😊.

Congratulations, David, and thank you again for your hard work to show how compelling a storytelling tool Power BI can be. This is a highly relevant data story presented clearly through well-chosen data visualizations.

David’s was not the only excellent submission to our contest, we would be remiss to not mention the other two finalists, as well as the many other excellent submissions.

In a very close race, our initial round of judging placed David’s report up against two other excellent co-finalists:


Missing Migrants – Tracking Deaths Along Migratory Routes

By Narius Patel, a London-based business intelligence consultant currently working on multiple Power BI projects within the health sector and who frequently tweets about Power BI.

Image of a datastory showing migrant deaths along the United States and Mexico Border. From Missing Migrants - Tracking Deaths Along Migratory Routes, by Narius Patel.

“This report has one of the most pleasing designs in the competition,” said Thibodeaux of this report, which maps and graphs fatalities along three migratory hotspots on the globe. “The integrated chart and map displays offer a compelling combination of narrative and analysis, and the design choices there are harmonious, as well. … I like the consistent design with variation in thematic topline statistics. The combination shows that the crisis is worldwide while recognizing differences in the individual regional constituent crises,” he said.

In my scoring, I praised the use of a map as a source of bookmarking which I thought helped engage the reader and to summarize the data showing it is a global phenomenon. I also liked the use of the play axis to draw the user into the story.


Climate Change Is Real

By Ravali Bandroju, an analytics engineer from Hyderabad, this was our dark horse entry, coming in just a day before entry submission was closed and garnering a very impressive 110 kudos from the community before the deadline.

Image of a datastory showing a trend of global mean temperature change from 1990 to 2017. From Climate Change Is Real, by Ravali Bandroju.

“This report gathers together a variety of strong data sets to explore aspects of one of the most important issues we face. The scale and purpose of this visualization are commendable,” said Thibodeaux in his judging report. “There’s so much here for the user to explore,” he said.

And lastly, we want to share some “Honorable Mentions” and be completely transparent about how we reached our decisions, as well as invite your comments or questions for future contests.

Almost immediately upon announcement of the contest at the beginning of January, our four-person panel of preliminary judges, comprised of employees – two female, two male – who lead the Microsoft Data Journalism Program, had to keep a close eye on submissions as they began rolling in. Very exciting. Early entries like DataChant’s “‘If I Were a Rich Man’ Bitcoin Calculator” set the bar high, then mid-month entries such as “#MeToo – Year in Review” from Pedzilla, “Instagram Year in Review 2017” from giorgiokatr and “Terrorism in 2017” from prathy kept the pressure on. We also received a few playful entries (like “Sharks Killed by Freezing, Ninja Attacks and Twinkies Eaten in 2017” from smoupre), and we appreciated those as well, but for different reasons. 😉

Overall, social, political and environmental themes (climate change, natural disasters) were dominant in the entries, as was music (Spotify) and cryptocurrency. Quite a wide range of topics that can be explained through data – which the judges remarked on throughout our judging – and all very relevant to 2017.

In our first round of scoring, we considered the timeliness of the report’s subject, the visual design and functionality of the report, use of data to effectively tell a story, and that the data, coming from a cited source, was not mishandled or used to support an unrelated premise. We also considered kudos from the community in our initial judging, as we said we would in our contest official rules (PDF).

A Few Common Challenges

One of the most valuable things a contest of this sort surfaces is reminders of best practices for using data visualization to tell a story to a general audience, as well as common downfalls to success. More than a couple submissions to the contest fell short in the following areas, so we thought a gentle reminder of these risks would be helpful to everyone:
    • Cite Your Source(s): Citing your sources is a fundamental of reporting and remains crucially important when leveraging data as supporting your conclusions. A few otherwise high-caliber entries failed to cite their data sources, so they were (very unfortunately) disqualified. Don’t forget to cite your sources!


    • Don’t Draw Unsupported Conclusions: If the argument you’re presenting is not addressed, or not supported by the data you’re using, something’s wrong. You probably need to either find other data that more directly address what you’re exploring or suppress your preconceived expectations of what the data would reveal and instead let the data tell its own story.


    • Don’t Overcomplicate: When taking on a complex topic or using a rich dataset, it’s tempting to include all the data you’ve got, giving the user all the controls and letting them filter down to uncover their own conclusions. This can be useful, especially when you’re creating a dashboard meant to enable complex investigation, but overdoing it can result in an unfocused report or one that’s daunting to use. Sometimes reports are more engaging when they drive home a smaller set of key findings.


    • Beware Too Many Words: If your report is starting to read like a novel, perhaps data visualization is not the best medium for telling your story. Generally speaking, the most successful data stories are understood at a glance through a clear narrative that focuses the reader’s attention on the story.


  • Simplify the Design: People are more often put off by a design that’s too busy or cluttered than by one that’s too simple. If you’re going to err, err on the side of simplicity. Elegant, uncluttered design is understandable at a glance and less likely to be rejected by a user for being too noisy.

What’s Next?

Thank you again for your entries and interest. While you’re awaiting our next contest, we encourage you to continue using Power BI to tell your stories and share what you develop in the Data Stories Gallery. While you do so, get involved with the Power BI community and keep your eye on the many resources Microsoft invests in to help you hone and differentiate your skills, including:

We have not yet determined what our next contest topic will be, or when we’ll run that contest, but it won’t be long. If you’d like to be automatically notified when we announce it, click “Subscribe” in the “Article Options” drop-down menu near the top of the page. We would love for you to enter our next contest.