Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare transforms public data into interactive visualisations

17 reporting products with Tableau vizzes released in 18 months

1,500 public vizzes shared within the first year

Democratised complex information for a wide-ranging audience


The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) is Australia’s national agency for health and welfare statistics. By producing high-quality data and reports, AIHW informs discussions and policymaking in health, housing and community services. In February 2017, AIHW deployed Tableau to improve public communication of data, and create a more interactive experience on their website.

Scaling from 11 licenses to more than 200 in less than two years, AIHW has become one of the leading government organisations using Tableau.

Peter Fakan and Daniel Sjoberg from the Specialist Capability Unit, together with Unit Head Nikki Schroder, discuss AIHW’s efforts to build a passionate community of AIHW staff using Tableau, and create a culture of innovation driven by data.

The feedback we have received from the public has been overwhelmingly positive. The change to interactive Tableau visualisations has been extremely well-received.

Effective public communication with interactive data visualisations

The AIHW needs to communicate to a wide-ranging audience including the general public, as well as groups with more specialised needs such as researchers, government planners and policy setters, health and welfare service providers, and students. This presented a challenge in finding visualisation tools that could present information in a captivating format, cater to specialist data users while still remaining accessible and easy to use across a wide range of skill and data literacy levels. In the quest to find an appropriate tool, the AIHW evaluated 14 tools on the market and found Tableau their preferred product for data visualisation.

The AIHW uses Tableau to embed interactive vizzes into online reports. These reports provide insights into a particular health or welfare subject, and Tableau vizzes help to support this by visually communicating statistics, trends, patterns and findings. Evolving from static graphs, tables and Excel spreadsheets, data is now brought to life on the website through rich Tableau visualisations.

“Tableau has given us the ability to integrate our data more closely with our stories, and to be more flexible in delivering information,” said Nikki, who heads a team that publishes data on housing and homelessness in Australia.

Feedback received from the public about the Tableau vizzes has been overwhelmingly positive, commented Peter Fakan. Tableau has been found to be very clean visually and easy to use, and staff are continually encouraged to produce more Tableau interactive vizzes.

Growing a passionate community with strong support systems

The key to Tableau’s successful deployment and growth within AIHW is the presence of a strong internal support system for the community of AIHW staff that use Tableau. The Specialist Capability Unit was in part set up to help staff achieve their goals with Tableau.

Lead Tableau Support Specialist Peter supports business units by understanding their work requirements, and providing the technical help they need to develop visualisation products in Tableau. A vital bridge between the technical and business areas of the institute, he observed how staff adapted to Tableau easily once they could see the connection to their work.

“The ease of use allows us to put Tableau in the hands of staff,” said Peter. “For instance, graduate employees got up and running in Tableau, building their first dashboards within an hour.”

Tableau’s accessibility as a tool, together with strong technical support to achieve business goals, enabled the AIHW to scale it across a large number of business areas.

Staff at the AIHW really love numbers. So something like Tableau that lets us play with the numbers is just awesome. A lot of stuff that happens in here might never make it to the public space, what matters more is how people are getting excited about the work they do.

The other pillar of support within AIHW came from the senior executives, who supported and encouraged innovation, investing in licenses and infrastructure such as their own Server.

“This level of commitment gave us the assurance that Tableau is here to stay for the longer term, and it’s worth learning and investing our resources in,” shared Nikki.

Beyond the Institute, Nikki also noted that many staff also appreciate Tableau Public, a space where they can learn from other Tableau users and build relationships in the Tableau community.

Peter also coordinates monthly sessions to engage the AIHW Tableau community, highlight outstanding vizzes and share best practices. Staff are also supported through formal internally developed courses conducted by the AIHW’s specialist in-house trainer. With extensive support at their fingertips, AIHW’s Tableau community continues to grow in both passion and numbers.

Enabling innovation with a data-driven culture

Another major benefit that AIHW has seen with Tableau is how the intuitive and flexible reporting tool
helped drive innovation within the Institute. With Tableau, staff take an exploratory approach to data
visualisation and think of creative ways to tell meaningful stories from large volumes of data.

“Tableau is naturally intuitive, which focuses users on the data,” explained Daniel. “So they’re not thinking about how to use Tableau, but what they want out of Tableau, and the insights they want to share.”

On the organisational level, Tableau has also helped AIHW build a culture of innovation. According to Nikki, their decision to implement Tableau “came at the right time and place”. Previously, the AIHW tended to be more conservative towards new software, and more prescriptive with how the organisation used it. With Tableau, they chose a different approach, letting staff explore and experiment with the tool before deciding how best to use it.

This flexible implementation model resulted in up to 1,500 AIHW vizzes shared with the public within a year, and around 6,000 vizzes created internally, changing the way people thought and felt about their work.

Instead of someone spending days and days grappling with how to use the tool, Tableau is naturally intuitive, which focuses staff on the data. So they’re not thinking about how to use Tableau, but what they want out of Tableau, and the insights they want to share.

Looking to the future

As part of AIHW’s drive to provide more accessible data that will inform and influence policy and planning to help improve the health and welfare of all Australians, the Institute looks forward to developing new and exciting interactive data products using Tableau. The AIHW is highly motivated by this goal and has developed a culture of innovation to find better ways to meet it. As a key part of this, AIHW will continue to release new and exciting Tableau visualisations.