Data Visualization Challenge: Using Data to Improve Justice

Thank you for your interest in the NIJ 2014 Data Visualization Challenge: Using Data to Improve Justice. No winners were selected for this Challenge but you are encouraged to check NIJ's site for future opportunities.

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The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) are launching a collaborative Data Visualization Challenge in support of the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ) Digital Strategy. This Challenge seeks data visualizations capable of expanding the use and understanding of publicly available criminal justice data.

This is a two-phase Challenge. Successful Phase I (Ideation) contestants will move to Phase II (Creation). Twenty-five thousand dollars in prize money will be awarded to winners of the Creation phase of the competition. Submission requirements, judging criteria, and deadlines are described below.


Bureau of Justice Statistics and other criminal justice datasets are often large and complex and include a wide variety of geocodes and identifiers. As such, they are a rich and valuable source of data. However, these characteristics can also make the tasks of analysis and presentation more difficult. This work becomes even more challenging as the world migrates toward the small screens of handheld devices.

In an effort to increase not only the transparency, but also the accessibility of these valuable sources of government data, NIJ and BJS are seeking ideas for, and development of, data visualization applications. A well-developed data visualization product can make it easier for the public, researchers, and policymakers to understand the data. These applications should enhance public access to, and understanding of, criminal justice information in ways that will address our current needs to access data in a readily understood format, from anywhere, at any time, from any device.

The following provides a few examples of the type of criminal justice issues that could be explored and explained through data visualization in order to guide policymaking and public understanding:[1]

  • Criminal court case processing stages and time frames; differences by case type, court system and other factors; critical points of delay and decision-making.
  • Relationship between the incidence of firearm assaults and other factors such as jurisdictional legal differences, demographics, socio-economic factors, etc.
  • Information processing times in criminal justice system reporting and response situations (e.g., from citizen to 911 operator, from 911 operator to law enforcement officer, from GPS tracking device to protection order recipient), and the points of, and reasons for, delay or failure.
  • Relationship between law enforcement officer shift length and on-the-job injury, assault, or citizen complaints.
  • Money and information streams through criminal enterprises` (e.g., stolen mobile devices; stolen vehicles; drugs; guns; laundering; contraband), points of potential law enforcement intervention.
  • Systemwide costs of various crimes (e.g., property theft; violence against women; economic crimes; enforcement of illegal immigration; human and wildlife trafficking), identifying specific entities, agencies, and individuals that bear the costs.

Requested Solution

Drawing from a list of publicly available criminal justice datasets, contestants are asked to create an innovative approach for visualizing the data in a way that increases understanding, ensures broad access, and accounts for the complexities found within statistical data. Contestants are encouraged to develop solutions that are cost-effective, platform-independent, and publicly accessible. These solutions can take the form of infographics; dashboards; and static, or interactive, data visualizations. Applicants are encouraged to incorporate publicly available data from non-criminal justice sources when such data provide insight into justice system outcomes or crime-related phenomena.

Publicly available criminal justice data are widely available for download through sites such as the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics; Data.gov (Safety Data); and the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data web sites. Applicants are encouraged to identify and use other publicly available federal, state and local criminal justice datasets, and non-criminal justice data to illuminate important trends and relationships. These data are frequently available online through government agency web sites.

Examples of criminal justice-related data visualizations, dashboards, and reports are available online at sites such as:

Examples of non-criminal justice specific data visualizations are available at sites such as:

Challenge Entries

All Challenge entries must demonstrate appropriate knowledge of applicable datasets and criminal justice concerns. Entries from law enforcement and criminal justice practitioners or researchers, public and private entities, research laboratories, startup companies, students, and others are encouraged.

How to Enter

Contestants must submit their entries via the “Data Visualization: Using Data to Improve Justice, Phase I: Application Ideation” announcement during the Challenge Submission Period. Entries must be made through the Office of Justice Programs Grants Management System (GMS).

Registration and entry are free. Both individual and team entries are acceptable.

The Challenge will use a two-stage submission process.

Phase I — Data Visualization Ideation

Proposals shall include:

  • A prospectus not exceeding 10 pages (12 pt. font; double spaced), submitted in PDF format.
  • A cover page for the prospectus (not counted against the 10-page limit).

The prospectus must address the following:

  • Describe the proposed data visualization and its purpose.
  • Demonstrate a need for the data visualization application (i.e., what informational need will be met, or insight added, by this application?).
  • Articulate the manner in which the application will improve criminal justice information uptake, effectiveness or efficiency.
  • Specify the public access databases used to support the application and the proposed method of acquiring and updating these data.
  • Specify the software or other tools that will be used to create the visualization.
  • Identify appropriate and obtainable process and impact measures.

A brief biographical sketch of each team member (not counted against the prospectus’ 10-page limit) describing any relevant qualifications or experience is encouraged, but not required.

Once an entry is submitted, no changes may be made. Any entry exceeding the page limits, or failing to address the six key elements, will be disqualified. Proposals submitted in Phase I and judged to be most viable, will be selected to participate in Phase II of the Challenge.

Phase II — Data Visualization Creation

Winners of Phase I will be invited to submit applications for the second phase of the Challenge – Data Visualization Creation. Phase II entrants will be asked to develop and submit the proposed data visualizations along with a listing of each data set used. This must include a description of the data set and the public web address where the data can be accessed. The contestant must explain how the dataset can be accessed and used on an ongoing and cost-efficient basis in order to ensure that the data visualization application remains up-to-date. These submissions must also include specific process and outcome measures which can be used to accurately measure the ongoing impact of the application. Submission requirements and dates may be updated during the course of the Challenge.

Important Dates

The following dates are tentative:

  • Phase I submission period: October 15, 2014 – January 30, 2015.
  • Phase I judging period: February 2, 2015 – April 30, 2015.
  • Phase I winners announced and Phase II invitations posted: May 1, 2015.
  • Phase II submission period: May 4, 2015 – August 3, 2015.
  • Phase II judging period: August 4, 2015 – September 30, 2015.
  • Phase II Winners Announced: October 15, 2015.


Challenge submissions will be judged by a distinguished panel of individuals with expertise in one or more of the following areas: criminal justice, data analytics, visual data representation, application development. Entries will be judged according to the criteria listed in Section IV. Reviewer ratings and recommendations are advisory. The Director of NIJ or his/her designee will make the final award determination. If the Director of NIJ determines that no entry is deserving of the award, no prize will be awarded. The award of any prize is subject to the availability of appropriated funds.

Judging Criteria

The following criteria will be used to judge Challenge entries:

  1. Contribution (40%)
    • Potential for improving the effectiveness, efficiency, or understanding of criminal justice operations, patterns, or impact.
    • Links multiple datasets to uncover new information or enhance understanding.
  2. Effectiveness (30%)
    • Displays the data in a new and interesting way.
    • Provides an optimal viewing experience across a wide range of devices.
    • Provides easy but unobtrusive access to associated footnotes and methodologies.
  3. Efficiency (30%)
    • Approach can be adapted for use with a large variety of datasets.
    • Uses cost-effective, platform-independent technologies.
    • Uses common standards, shared services or common infrastructure.
    • Can be easily and routinely updated.


The $25,000 Challenge prize money will be divided among five Phase II winning entries as follows:

  • First Prize: $8,000.
  • Second Prize: $7,000.
  • Third Prize: $5,000.
  • Fourth Prize: $3,000.
  • Fifth Prize: $2,000.

In the case of a team entry, the team will be considered a contestant and receive any prize money as a group. Subject to the availability of appropriated funds and to any modifications or additional requirements that may be imposed by law, the contestants submitting the winning solution may be afforded the opportunity to participate in one or more related NIJ-sponsored events held subsequent to the Challenge contest.

Rules and Other Conditions

  1. Submission Periods
    Entries submitted before or after the designated Submission Periods (Section II) will not be reviewed.
  2. Eligibility
    The Challenge is open to: (1) individual residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa who are at least 13 years old at the time of entry; (2) teams of eligible individuals; and (3) corporations or other legal entities (e.g., partnerships or nonprofit organizations) domiciled in any jurisdiction specified in (1). Entries by contestants under the age of 18 must include the co-signature of the contestant’s parent or legal guardian. Contestants may submit or participate in the submission of more than one entry. Employees of NIJ, BJS, and individuals or entities listed on the Federal Excluded Parties list (www.epls.gov) are not eligible to participate. Employees of the Federal Government should consult with the Ethics Officer at their place of employment prior to submitting an entry for this Challenge. The Challenge is subject to all applicable federal laws and regulations. Submission of an entry constitutes a contestant's full and unconditional agreement to all applicable rules and conditions. Eligibility for the prize award is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements set forth herein.
  3. General Warranties and Conditions
    (a) Release of Liability: By entering the Challenge, each contestant agrees to: (1) comply with and be bound by all applicable rules and conditions, and the decisions of NIJ, which are binding and final in all matters relating to this Challenge; (2) release and hold harmless NIJ, BJS and any other organizations responsible for sponsoring, fulfilling, administering, advertising or promoting the Challenge, and all their respective past and present officers, directors, employees, agents and representatives (collectively, the "Released Parties") from and against any and all claims, expenses, and liability arising out of or relating to the contestant’s entry or participation in the Challenge, and/or the contestant’s acceptance, use, or misuse of the prize or recognition.

    The Released Parties are not responsible for: (1) any incorrect or inaccurate information, whether caused by contestants, printing errors or by any of the equipment or programming associated with or used in the Challenge; (2) technical failures of any kind, including, but not limited to malfunctions, interruptions, or disconnections in phone lines or network hardware or software; (3) unauthorized human intervention in any part of the entry process or the Challenge; (4) technical or human error that may occur in the administration of the Challenge or the processing of entries; or (5) any injury or damage to persons or property that may be caused, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, from contestant's participation in the Challenge or receipt or use or misuse of any prize. If for any reason a contestant's entry is confirmed to have been deleted erroneously, lost, or otherwise destroyed or corrupted, contestant's sole remedy is to submit another entry in the Challenge.

    (b) Termination and Disqualification: NIJ reserves the authority to cancel, suspend, and/or modify the Challenge, or any part of it, if any fraud, technical failures, or any other factor beyond NIJ’s reasonable control impairs the integrity or proper functioning of the Challenge, as determined by NIJ in its sole discretion. NIJ reserves the authority to disqualify any contestant it believes to be tampering with the entry process or the operation of the Challenge or to be acting in violation of any applicable rule or condition. Any attempt by any person to undermine the legitimate operation of the Challenge may be a violation of criminal and civil law, and, should such an attempt be made, NIJ reserves the authority to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law. NIJ’s failure to enforce any term of any applicable rule or condition shall not constitute a waiver of that term.

    (c) Intellectual Property: By entering the Challenge, each contestant warrants that he or she is the author and/or authorized owner of the entry, and that the entry is wholly original with the contestant (or is an improved version of an existing solution that the contestant is legally authorized to enter in the Challenge), and that the submitted entry does not infringe any copyright, patent, or any other rights of any third party. Each contestant agrees to hold the Released Parties harmless for any infringement of copyright, trademark, patent, and/or other real or intellectual property right that may be caused, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, from contestant's participation in the Challenge.

    (d) Publicity: By entering the Challenge, each contestant consents, as applicable, to NIJ’s use of his/her/its name, likeness, photograph, voice, and/or opinions, and disclosure of his/her/its hometown and state for promotional purposes in any media, worldwide, without further payment or consideration.

    (e) Privacy: Personal and contact information is not collected for commercial or marketing purposes. Information submitted throughout the Challenge will be used only to communicate with contestants regarding entries and/or the Challenge.

    (f) Compliance with Law: By entering the Challenge, each contestant guarantees that the entry complies with all federal and state laws and regulations.

    (g) Malware: Each contestant warrants that his or her submission is free of viruses, spyware, malware, or any other malicious, harmful, or destructive device. Contestants submitting entries containing any such device will be held liable and may be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
  4. Special Disqualification Rule
    If any of the announced winners of the Challenge prize are found to be ineligible or are disqualified for any of the reasons listed under Section VI, Other Rules and Conditions, NIJ may make the award, instead, to the next runner-up, as previously determined by the NIJ Director.
  5. Winner and Recognition
    Following the announcement of the award, the Challenge winners may be honored at an NIJ event in Washington, DC. It also is anticipated that the winner may be invited to attend one or more professional association meetings to be recognized for their contribution to the improvement of criminal justice operations.
  6. Prize Disbursement and Requirements
    Prize winners must comport with all applicable laws and regulations regarding prize receipt and disbursement.
  7. Rights Retained by Contestants and Challenge Winner
    (a) All legal rights in any materials or products submitted in entering the Challenge are retained by the contestant and/or the legal holder of those rights. Entry in the Challenge constitutes express authorization for NIJ staff and NIJ’s selected panel of judges to review and analyze any and all aspects of submitted entries, including the source code and any trade secret or proprietary information contained in or evident from review of the source code.
    (b) Upon acceptance of any Challenge prizes, the winning contestants grant a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual and irrevocable right to the National Institute of Justice to use, and authorize others to use, the winning solution (in whole or in part, including in connection with derivative works) for federal purposes.

Contact Information

Substantive Questions Regarding This Challenge
For substantive questions about the Challenge, please e-mail NIJ at: DATAVIZchallengequestions@usdoj.gov

Technical Questions Regarding the Application Process:
First read through How to Enter above; if you still have questions, contact the OJP Grants Management System (GMS) Help Desk, open Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to midnight eastern time, except federal holidays, at 1-888-549-9901.


[1] These topics are provided only as examples and meant to stimulate the development of new ideas. The list is not exhaustive nor does it reflect agency research priorities or indicate availability of existing data.