Visualizing Information for Advocacy

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Monday, November 11, 2013 to Friday, November 15, 2013
Conversation type: 
Type of tactical goal: 

Summary available

Thank you for joining Tactical Technology Collective and the New Tactics community for an online conversation November 11 to 15, 2013.  

People around the world use digital tools and visualisation techniques to expose injustice and abuse, creating narratives to challenge the status quo and mobilising for action.

Whether we’re swamped by it or starved of it, the value of information depends on its quality, and its usefulness depends on our ability to communicate it successfully. As activists, we can't sit and wait for people to wade through sixty-page reports. To influence people we must make strong arguments and communicate them using strong evidence. Well timed, rigorous and well-presented information is the greatest asset activists possess.

This online conversation brought together human rights defenders who have experience and/or interest in visualizing information, as well as experts in this topic, to share their experiences, challenges, ideas and resources with each other.

Tactical Tech's Evidence & Action programme helps rights advocates use information strategically and creatively in their campaigning. Tactical Tech aims to inspire innovative campaigns and provide practical support for collecting, investigating and curating evidence for advocacy. The programme does this through project partnerships, trainings and developing and distributing resources. The image on the front page of this website belongs to Tactical Tech and is used in their Drawing-by-Numbers toolkit.

Tactical Examples

Information: Collecting and Cleaning Data

How do activists reduce errors in datasets to create factual and effective graphics?  Participants shared various online tools and methods for collecting and  cleaning data, such as Open Refine.  Interpreting and analyzing data is often challenging, thus it is important to know how to find and remove unwanted data and format it correctly.  One approach for collecting and editing data are the 5 T’s: Trust, Time, Team, Training, and Tenacity.  This framework starts broad with reliable online open source data websites (such as the World Bank, UN Data, etc).  Activists should also keep in mind the 4 W’s--What, Where, When, Who--when collecting data.  These tools help activists not to pre-presume or collect data based on selection bias.  

It is important that activists check their sources for accuracy and secure their data.  Participants suggested activists should use tools for encrypting data, such as Security-in-a-Box.  However, protecting data from third parties or secondary sources differs from protecting data during collection.  More measures should be taken when protecting human rights subjects.  Mobile phones present further challenges, but can also be a powerful data tool for projects such as crisis tracking.  Mobile phones help document location, which is important for any geographic visualization, but activists shouldn’t store the data they collect on their phones because it is not a secure tool for storing sensitive data.  

Gathering, analyzing, and sharing data from community-level sources can be challenging for activists.  Participatory research is one answer to these challenges, involving the community in the processes of data collection.  

Planning: Captivating your audience with the right story

After activists collect data, how does data translate to advocacy?  Transforming data to advocacy requires a clear set of goal settings that are strong and flexible.  Questions such as--What do we want to change? and Who are the actors that can impact this issue?--direct the message and help ground the data in advocacy.  

Data visualization takes many forms, from infographics to interactive mapping and videos.  They can be a powerful tool to grab audience’s attention and advocate for human rights issues.  How do activists infuse visuals with an emotional as well as logical appeal, and avoid being just ‘a great design.’?  When creating visuals, activists should ask themselves: can this information point be easily summarized by someone who didn’t make the graphic just by looking at it?  And, what message is this visualization conveying or motivating for?  

Increasingly, the international human rights community is turning to interactive mapping to document and show human rights abuses.  Humanitarian Tracker and Amnesty International demonstrate how data is translated to an interactive map that updates daily on human rights issues in places like Syria and Nigeria.  These maps highlight human rights issues and empower human rights activists with the knowledge of how to assess and respond to the crises on the ground.  In particular, they connect the international human rights community through data visualization.  

Implementing: Producing compelling visualizations to strengthen campaigns

The internet hosts numerous free websites and technology to collect, analyze, and visualize data.  Some examples of these are: Google Earth Animation, Visual.y,  Datawrapper, etc.  Activists also practice do-it-yourself (DIY) aerial mapping when Google Earth or other sources don’t present the complexities of geopolitical space.   

What tool works best for what project?  Oftentimes, the plethora of tools and methods available stymies human rights activists.  Tactical Tech offers insight into choosing the right tool to use and reviews on how to use them.  Organizations also have the option of bringing in a designer.  What tools organizations and activists use depends on what project or goal they are trying to accomplish.  For example, Humanitarian Tracker’s Syria Tracker presents data differently and using different tools than UNICEF’s infograph on under-five mortality rate in Nigeria. Humanitarian Tracker documents ongoing human rights abuses and trends whereas UNICEF maps out a story of a successful ongoing human rights campaign.  

Compelling visualizations can take on a life of their own, connecting the audience to the visualization and the campaign.  One example of this is The Girl Effect.  The Girl Effect uses video stories to present data that captures the audience, and their campaign has become a model for human rights campaigns.  

Lessons-learned: What works and what doesn’t

Images and visualizations have power.  Manipulating pre-existing images can be powerful subversive tactics and critical social commentary.  Creative data visualizations can engage the world in new ways that forces audiences to reconsider notions of truth and fact.  However, bad visualizations can harm a campaign’s message or draw attention away from the main point.  


Data Collection and Visualization Tools:

Data Visualization Examples:

Books, Articles, and Blogposts:

New Tactics Resources:

Conversation Leaders

jacky's picture
jacky sutton
epiraces's picture
Enrique Piracés
Carnegie Mellon University
Hleson's picture
Heather Leson
Open Knowledge Foundation
@HNTracker's picture
Hend Alhinnawi
Humanitarian Tracker
Susan Wolfinbarger's picture
Susan Wolfinbarger
Emma Prest's picture
Emma Prest
Tactical Tech
zararah's picture
Zara Rahman
Open Knowledge Foundation
mirkolorenz's picture
Mirko Lorenz
Journalism ++ Cologne
Gabi's picture
Gabi Sibley
Tactical Tech