Practical Examples & Open Forum

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Practical Examples & Open Forum

This is a space for conversation leaders and guests to pose questions, propose ideas, share successes, tactics, tools and resources with one another that have not been addressed in other threads.

Examples of Human Rights Visualization

If you are looking for practical examples, my research group at NYU put together a Google Spreadsheet of human rights visualizations from around the web. Many of these examples are produced by or with human rights NGOs, though we also have a separate page on that sheet with many excellent human rights-related graphics produced by news organizations. Because it's web-based, the list is biased more towards interactive rather than static or printed graphics, but feel free to add any we missed!

Visualizing the spreadsheet

This is great John! I immediately think of hooking the spreadsheet up to an interactive exploration tool. A bit meta, perhaps, but I guess it could be useful. What do you think?

Certainly! Feel free to play

Certainly! Feel free to play with it. The category coding here is probably not as rigorous or useful as it could be, but feel free to have fun with it!

Thank you!

This is extremely cool. Thanks a bunch for sharing :) 

Inspired me to compile a list of all the resources/tools shared in this conversation:

New Tactics' Visualizations

New Tactics wanted to show the expansion of trainers that had emerged out of trainings conducted within a 5-year period in MENA. At the same time, show trainings that came as a result of the newly trained trainers in the region. The result is the graphic snippet that can be seen in the header for this conversation, which can also be viewed here: (PDF) OR (JPG)

New Tactics needed to visualize a year's worth of web traffic for reporting purposes. The end result can be seen here: (PDF) 

Lastly, we wanted to visualize where New Tactics had been active across the world. The final datasets were uploaded to Carto. You can view our 'Global Activity Map' here:

We continue to develop additional visualizations for internal purposes that allow us to assess where we can make adjustments and revisions to our resource libraries, trainings, and more. It has been a useful exercise for us.


Networks (please add):

Some of you may be interested in connecting with the organizers of, an annual event that brings together researchers, data visualizers, and web developers to support select human rights organizations with powerful datasets and stories to tell. Small Media is the main organizer, and they often partner with local organizations depending on the theme of each workshop. A wonderful network of people interested in the intersection of data, technology, design, and human rights is emerging through and around these events.

Online learning resources (please add):

Some accessible tools (please add): by Density Design - an open source data viz tool - both a visualization tool and a publishing platform - for location data


Databasic - A tool for beginners in data visualization

These are great resources. John - the spreadsheet is INCREDIBLE. This will be a wealth of examples to show in classes and workshops.

I wanted to add one tool to the list of resources that I have co-developed with my colleague Rahul Bhargava at the MIT Center for Civic Media. is a suite of four open source, web-based tools that help beginners understand basic concepts of data analysis and storytelling. The four tools are:

  1. WordCounter - helps introduce newcomers to concepts of quantitative text analysis
  2. SameDiff - helps learners compare two text documents to see similarities and differences
  3. WTFcsv - helps learners start to see basic patterns in a spreadsheet and possibly spot missing or incorrect data (for geeks - this is like a visual version of R's "summary" command)
  4. Connect the Dots - helps learners understand basic concepts of networks and network analysis

Though there are many, many tools out there to work with data, we saw a real need for tools that help introduce data to beginning learners who may be from creative, journalistic or advocacy contexts. We've tried to make these tools easy to use and include educator activity guides so that educators can run their own workshops with the tools in their classroom or setting. 

Happy to help people get up to speed with Databasic or answer any questions about the four tools. Just FYI - We do not sell it or make money from it as it's an independent, open source research project. 

Thanks for sharing this

I think this is a good idea and speaks to need for data literacy among human rights pracitioners, activists and journalists. Making them actionable, multilingual and surround them with tutorials is a great idea as well.


These are great links and many of them are already included on this list of data visualizations tools, essays, and learning resources I've been collecting with human rights researchers and advocates in mind. Visit

Visualizing news & political echo chambers

I am currently developing Ekokammaren (The echo chamber) (currently in Swedish only), which fetches news posts from various Facebook sources and displays these side by side - categorized by political agenda, from socialist/feminist to nationalist. Very much inspired by the great Blue feed, red feed

The idea is not to provide a full, nuanced news flash update, but rather to visualize the echo chambers and filter bubbles that can appear on social media platforms - and the potential dangers with these. It is clear that the same news stories often appear in all the feeds, but with vastly different takes due to the publisher's political agenda. Also, news articles to the far right that get many "angry" reactions tend to be shared a lot, while news articles in the "socialist column" tend to get more happy reactions.

I would like to further develop Ekokammaren with interactive explorative tools/graphs to more clearly show these (and other) correlations, as well as implement some text analasys to automatically connect articles that tell the same news story, and to make sentiment analasys. I really like the SameDiff tool that Kanarinka introduced above, great inspiration, thanks!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this tool. Do you think it could be extended to be useful in other areas, i.e. in human rights advocacy?

Learning from spatial experts

If you can visit one site today, in the context of this dialogue, I'd suggest to take a look at SITU Research. They have been expanding the notion of visualization in an innovative and effective way.

This link has a sample of their work

You can read about them here

Below some direct links to specific projects:

- ICC case

A collaboration between The International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor and SITU Research, this interactive digital platform was designed to facilitate the organization, analysis, and presentation of evidence documenting the destruction of sites of cultural heritage in Timbuktu, Mali. Combining geospatial information, historic satellite imagery, photographs, open source videos, and other forms of site documentation, the tool was used as part of trial proceedings against the defendant, Mr Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, an alleged member of the armed group Ansar Dine, who was charged with participating in the intentional destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque’s door in 2012.

- The Geography of State Violence (1962-1996) (nvironmental violence and genocide in the Ixil Triangle, Guatemala)

- In collaboration with Amnesty International, SITU Research designed this interactive digital platform to facilitate the organization, analysis and presentation of evidence documenting scorched earth and chemical weapons attacks of civilians in Jebel Marra, Darfur.

Innovations and Fundamentals

Thanks for these links. SITU is doing some really interesting and cutting edge spatial analysis. Forensic Architecture also does important and fascinating work using spatial modeling to piece together evidence for human rights investigations. Here's a talk by Eyal Weizman of Forensic Architecture exploring some of their work.

Recently, I ran into a funny issue, though, trying to cite a SITU project on a paper: I had a very hard time finding out when it was actually published! Almost none of these web views include an actual date stamp. I had to piece together a citation after much searching and scrounging for clues around the web.

This is pretty basic web usability, and I fear that the push for innovation sometimes ignores these fundamentals. For instance, none of these platforms work on mobile devices, they don't print very well, and they are rarely localized into languages other than English. I also wish they included a bit more narrative framing and storytelling. What is the context of these incidents being visualized? What was the arc of the conflict? What are the advocacy recommendations? Advocacy organizations don't usually dump their trove of testimony online and let them stand on their own. So why would they do so with data viz? Human rights reports work well when they provide not just the catalog of findings of fact, but also provide context, background, analysis, and recommendations.

That said, it may very well be the intent of these particular projects to let the evidence stand on its own. Some of these are clearly intended for use in a legal proceeding with a target audience narrowly defined as officials of a particular tribunal. As such, it may actually be inappropriate to introduce framing that has not been established as fact in the courtroom. But when producing data visualizations for multiple audiences, a little journalistic storytelling and perspective goes a very long way.

From data to advocacy

A few years ago, while I was working at Human Rights Watch, I had the opportunity to work with the forward-looking US Program Director (Alison Parker) on a project that included a large (for the times) set of data in immigration detention. The project aimed at understanding what such data could tell us about detention by human rights subject in the immigration system. Also, and more importantly, our work included the tasks of making this data useful for advocacy. That project was formative for me, and could illustrative for others, as it involved the whole arc of a project taking this all the way from data analysis to successful advocacy. My colleague Brian Root (who is also a co-lead of this dialogue, Hi Brian!) has a blog post about this that I'd suggest reading:

Project Ideas + Thought Process

I'm really curious to understand how you think about ideas for your data visualization projects- for projects that are not client based, how key is something like recency of issue?

And, what is your thought process like during the diffferent stages of your project?

Visual Social Media Lab's report on Aylan Kurdi

Hi everyone, 

I want to share a report that uses data visualization in an effective way: The Iconic Image on Social Media: A Rapid Research Response to the Death of Aylan Kurdi, published by the Visual Social Media Lab in 2015.

Although this project frames its core question in academic terms, there are a few reasons I find it so compelling in a conversation about data visualization and human rights:

  • The project speaks to a humanitarian crisis, related public policy, and the rapidly-changing advocacy environment surrounding refugee rights very powerfully
  • The data source (Twitter and Google search data) prompts us to consider how we can sometimes study human rights through data we might not ordinarily consider "human rights data"
  • In my opinion, the project does a great job of combining written analysis, data analysis, and clear data visualization to walk us through the story - I was riveted
  • This project (and the Visual Social Media Lab as a whole) paints an excellent picture of the highly interdisciplinary nature of data visualization work. 

I hope that you will find it as fascinating as I did!

Example - Justice Forum mapping projects

Hello all, 

Unfortunately I'm joining this late in the day, but our sister project, Justice Forum, released some very interesting data visualisations last year. Firstly, the Renditions Map, which visualises the journeys of all known renditions from the mid 1990's to present day; from the location of their arrest, to the locations they were subsequently detained in. Secondly, JF published a map to accompany HAKI Africa's report 'What Do We Tell The Families?', which visually presents the cases of extrajudicial killings and disappearances investigated and documented by HAKI in their report.

There is also a forthcoming Counter-piracy Map in the pipeline mapping the journeys of over 600 pirates who were picked up on the high-seas and subsequently prosecuted in over 21 countries around the world. 

Hope this is interesting to some of you! Please let me know your thoughts!

Sarah El-Grew

Re: Justice Forum maps + how does a dataviz "work" in the world?

Thank you Sarah for these excellent maps and visualizations of renditions and extrajudicial killings. It makes me think about a couple of different questions for folks creating important work like this. I'd love to hear responses for Justice Forum but also for HRW and some of the other advocacy organizations who are participating.

1) How do you distribute the visualizations? Who are the most important audiences to target? If the audience is a more general public, how do you measure "success" (through likes/shares/etc? Or are you thinking of other ways?)

2) When you are working on a data visualization, how do you decide if it's "worth it" to create an online, interactive version of it versus more static graphics for reports, policy briefs, etc? I ask this because I recently saw a talk by a New York Times data journalist who said that the Times is starting to be very judicious about what kinds of resources it allocates to interactive data features. They still want to do them, but only when they think that  the stories will be very high-profile and generate a lot of traffic.



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Re: Justice Forum maps + how does a dataviz "work" in the world?

Hi Catherine, 

Thanks for your interesting questions. I worked on the extrajudicial killings and disappearances map that Justice Forum published in December alongside HAKI Africa's report. 

I suppose there were two main reasons that we all felt it was important to create a dataviz for this particular report:

Firstly, we are aware that advocacy reports of this kind are targeted at a very niche audience, pretty much only litigators, journalists and human rights advocates. We hoped that an accompanying dataviz which uses language accessible to a wider audience would help move interest beyond these specific groups and further into the general public. 

Secondly, HAKI spent years investigating and documenting cases of EJKDs across the coast of Kenya and connecting with the families of the missing and deceased, offering support, advice and a community, and in many ways they struggled personally to bring this issue to light. I think we all felt to reduce all this into a table in the appendix of the report and a few case studies seemed like a shortfall. The dataviz allowed us to give space to each and every story. We hoped that the data map would bring in a more human element to accompany the legal, and that perhaps an online archive of these individuals’ stories would be harder to brush under the carpet. 

I would say measuring success has been a difficulty. We have certainly learned a lot of lessons, and would probably do a few things differently on any future projects, but even still I don’t think measuring success on a project like this is ever simple. Our biggest indication of success is traffic to the website, but this is tricky in itself because we don’t really have any thresholds, or points of reference, set to help us understand and measure success. In my opinion this is definitely an area of improvement for us. 


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