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.
- Humanitarian Tracker uses data sent by mobile phones to document human rights abuses in Syria and geospatially map them on Syria Tracker.
- Amnesty International combines geographic data visualization and interactive mapping to document human rights abuses in Nigeria and convey this information to international audiences.
- Al Jazeera and Google Ideas collaborated to make an interactive visualization of loyalty/defections from the Syrian regime that helps international audiences and human rights activists understand and respond to the situation in Syria.
- Wona Sanana employed participatory research techniques combining data-collection with community education to advance children’s social and economic rights in Mozambique.
- The Story of Stuff Project uses video narration to highlight the social, economic and political aspects of mass consumption and the related environmental degradation, such as this video on the Story of Bottled Water.
- Palestinian activist Hagit Keysar used kites as a DIY aerial mapping technique in Israel to highlight (mis)representations of Israeli-Palestinian geopolitical space.
- A Berlin organization, Tools for Action, ‘threw stones’ in May 1st protest by using giant inflatables in their rallies. This innovative take humanized their protest and incorporated the police into their game, negative any violence.
- Created by Brazilian artist Icaro Daria, the Meet the World campaign takes national flags and alters their meaning to subvert the nationalistic authority invested in such symbols.
- UNICEF uses infographs, such as Niger: Committing to Child Survival, to highlight the successes of their ongoing campaigns as well as mapping out what still needs to be done.
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:
- Datawrapper: Open source tool for creating data charts, graphs, etc.
- GitHub: Data Visualization examples and models
- Gapminder: Graph visualization and database.
- GDELT: Global Database of Events, Language and Tone
- Geonames: Geographical databases
- School of Data:
- Security in a Box:
- Statwing: Data exploration and statistical analysis
- Visual.y: Website that provides visualization graphs and tools to visualize data.
Data Visualization Examples:
- Interactive: Tracking Syria’s Defections: Example from Al Jazeera.
- Syria Tracker: Humanitarian Tracker offers a crisis mapping system that uses crowdsourced text, photo and video reports forming a live map of the Syrian revolution (2011).
Books, Articles, and Blogposts:
- Lessons Ushahidi Learned From Knight, Crowdglobe Reports
- Witness’s Conducting Safe, Effective and Ethical Interviews with Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
- How to analyze unfamiliar data: Circle, Dive and Riff from DataDoodle
- TSNYC: Data visualization for immigration advocacy from bringing community development and technology
- AAAS: Conflict in Aleppo, Syria: A Retrospective Analysis
New Tactics Resources:
- New Tactics Conversation:
- Participatory Research for Action
- Geo-mapping for human rights
- New Tactics Case Study: Research for Action: A region-wide participatory process to build participation, awareness & advocacy on trade policies
- New Tactics: Tactical Example from Lebanon: Visual mapping to create public awareness and pressure for policy change