For the January 2020 edition of #IronQuest, Lindsay Betzendahl and I teamed up to run a joint #ProjectHealthVizand #IronQuest round.

For those that don’t know, #ProjectHealthViz is a community project founded by Lindsay in 2018. Every month, Lindsay sources a dataset on a health-related topic. The community then create visualisations using the provided data and share their work on Twitter using the hashtag #ProjectHealthViz.

For this round, our focus was on ‘Healthcare in Prisons’. This turned out to be an incredibly broad topic!


Lindsay provided some data on mental health in U.S. prisons. However, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to focus on the UK. Admittedly, this isn’t a topic that I know much about so I knew I would need to undertake a lot of reading before building a viz. Research is one of my favourite parts of the creative process so I was looking forward to the challenge.

I initially found some data published by the Government on self-harm incidents in UK prisons and used this as my starting point. However, as I started analysing the data it quickly became apparent that self harm is a far bigger problem amongst female prisoners. Female prisoners represent only 5% of the prison population in the UK, yet account for 19% of all self harm incidents.

As a tried to understand the numbers, I discovered more and more shocking statistics about women in prison. Female prisoners have very different health and social needs compared to their male counterparts. However, in a system so dominated by men, they are often overlooked.


I undertook extensive research for this viz and the process led me down various rabbit holes. I remember things best when I write them down so I made pages upon pages of notes!

Most of my work was undertaken on my train commutes to and from London so I put everything in a notebook so it was portable:

Notes 1
Example of my note taking!



Once I had enough to work with, I distilled my research down into sections which I wanted to include in my viz:

Notes 2
Viz Sections

To help to tell the story I attempted to answer the questions;

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

I find that building a viz around these questions can really help to tell a more concise story. Attempting to answer these questions when working with data in Tableau for the first time can also be very effective. Not all of the questions will be relevant every time but it tends to be a good starting point.

I like to use post-it notes to help plan my viz and note down any key facts which would make good BAN’s or charts. Usually I would do this at my desk but since I was doing a lot of my work on the train, I included the post-it’s in my notebook:

Notes 3
More notes!

For this viz, I identified the main sections and added facts to each one. Using a notebook for this process isn’t ideal but it worked.

Building the Viz

By the time I got to building the viz in Tableau, I already had each section planned out. I knew I wanted a minimalistic design with only a few colours. I chose to show women in a bright purple but kept all other colours muted.

I wanted to bring the stories behind the data to life so included real-life stories which describe the experience of women who had sadly passed away in prison. Their stories link directly into the narrative of the viz.

I focused on chart variety in this viz and utilised Kizley Benedict’s Plum Pudding chart tutorial to represent the prison population split by gender and Ken Flerlage’s Sankey chart template to show the causes of death for women in prison. Both tutorials are fantastic and really easy to use. They may not be the best charts to use for precise comparisons (especially in a business context) but they worked for my use case.

I’ve seen quite a few vizzes which have utilised collapsible containers recently so I also included these in my viz. They offer a great way of adding an extra level of detail without adding any additional clutter to the view.

At the bottom of my viz in the ‘Solutions’ section I built an image in PowerPoint using basic lines and circle shapes and icons from Noun Project. I then built invisible sheets in Tableau, floated these on top of the relevant section of the image and used tooltips to appear on hover to provide context.

The Finished Product

Here is my completed viz.

I struggled to export a complete image of the viz so here it is in three sections:




Explore the interactive version on Tableau Public here.

Thanks for reading.