Implementing: Producing compelling visualizations to strengthen campaigns

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Implementing: Producing compelling visualizations to strengthen campaigns

Ok, now it's time to get into the nitty gritty of producing our visuals. How did you do it? What tools did you use? Why did you do it that way? We'd love to collect a few case studies here. Consider these questions below when sharing your comments in this discussion topic:

  • Share examples of compelling visualizations. If possible, include information on:
    • where the data came from
    • how it was created
    • who the audience was
    • its connection to the campaign’s strategy.
  • What tools can be used to produce visualizations?
  • When to use out-of-box tools or when to bring in a designer?

Share your thoughts, experiences, questions, challenges and ideas by replying to the comments below.

For help on how to participate in this conversation, please visit these online instructions. New feature: you can now add images and video to your comments!

Visual mapping to create public awareness for policy change

We have documented a tactic from Lebanon in which the Greenpeace Lebanon office mapped environmental violations along the country’s coast in order to educate the general public about the problem of toxic industrial waste and to pressure the government to institute policies to remedy the problem. The example is a little old (I'm sure you all have many other great examples of geo-mapping violations) but the transferability of the tactic remains the same. This is the take-away that we identified from this tactic:

No matter what audience you are trying to reach, visual representations of the problem you are addressing can be a very strong asset. Greenpeace Lebanon effectively used mapping to illustrate environmental hazards along Lebanon’s coast.

Greenpeace Lebanon turned dry, technical information into a compelling picture — making facts understand­able to members of the public while attracting and holding their interest in its work, and at the same time moving them to take action to remedy the problem. The problem of environmental violations had been largely hidden, so that the people affected weren’t even aware of the abuse. By revealing it, Greenpeace created a new constituency to work against it. The key to this success — the raised awareness and the passage of the new law — was strong outreach and media coverage to highlight the mapping effort as the group also lobbied for spe­cific policy changes.

GIS mapping is being used to illustrate and combat other human rights problems, such as sex trafficking. It could also be used to show reported incidents of torture at police precincts, illustrate widespread poverty by describing average household incomes in an area, or portray access (or lack of access) to vital services by showing the locations of wells, hospitals or schools to illustrate access. When we can see the extent of a problem, we are better equipped to respond to it.

More information about this tactic can be found here and we hosted an online conversation on geo-mapping for human rights that feature some great tactics as well.

How else has geo-mapping been used to document and explain information on violations?

Mapping human rights violations

One of the easier ways to create geographic visualizations is through Google Earth. You can add satellite imagery, shapefiles, text boxes, etc into a single kml that can be downloaded from your website. This is what we do with the majority of our human rights case studies. One of our more recent reports, Conflict in Aleppo, Syria: A Retrospective Analysis, is an example of how we share the information. When you go to the report page, you see a link to the PDF if you just want to read the report old-school. Right next to it, however, is a link to download the report data to view it in Google Earth. This is a small download, as the imagery is hosted on Amazon's cloud, so the kml opens up in Google Earth pretty quickly. If we had tried to make it a total download, it was over 30gb of data!

The purpose of our Aleppo work is to create a record of how the city has been impacted over time and the exploration capabilities provided in Google Earth are ideal for this use. You can zoom in to any area of the city you are interested in and see every single image and the analysis results for each. In the image below, I've turned on the 26 May 2013 layer and zoomed to view the well-publicized damage to the minaret of the Umayyad Mosque.

By making our report and analysis open, it cuts down on objections to the analysis results- anyone can download the files and examine our results themselves. This is very different than most of the analysis that is published today, where the authors may not share the data, methods, or results in a replicable way.

Google Earth Animation

Love this, Susan! Great work mapping events in Aleppo.

Google Earth is one of the tools we use at Syria Tracker (kml file here (requires Free version of Google Earth for viewing)). We also use the animation feature in kmz format, for example you can see this <1-minute YouTube clip we published on September 29 demonstrating the intensity of the killings in Syria over time and space using Google Earth. 


Do-It-Yourself satellite imagery with kites and balloons

To add a little extra low tech resource to this conversation - in areas where google maps isn't mapping areas in a high quality or you want to map an area yourself there is a technique showcased through a friend of Tactical Tech's, Hagit, in Israel. Kites can be used for more than flying on a windy afternoon: they can take photographs and can be an important map-making tool. 

We made a 26 minute documentary that features Hagit and her work mapping Palestine on our new documentary series Exposing the Invisible. 

More resources:

A how-to balloon and kite map from Public Lab  

A resource piece about Hagit's work and her kite mapping technique 

An article we wrote about using kite to map Palestine 


Because I'm a Woman?

Thanks for getting us started, Kristin!

Going back to Humanitarian Tracker's flagship project, Syria Tracker, I wanted to share two visuals we created that focus on women. The first one lists the names of the women killed in Arabic, as indicated by our reports, and the entire visual is shaped like Syria.  We used the picture, along with this link to show a very disturbing trend happening.

Aside from showing the number of women killed in the conflict, the data indicated that a woman was 10 TIMES more likely to be killed in Homs, a city in western Syria, than any other place in Syria. We believed that there was (and still is) systematic killing of women in this area, as indicated by the reports and data we received. 

This information was shared with all our partners, especially those working in human rights, women's rights and humanitarian aid.  The two visuals combined helped highlight that the killing was not merely random, but resembled characteristics of citizen targeting, and specifically women. They are easy to understand, and people can change the setting on the map (see link above) to show other data as well. 

D3, AmCharts, Tilemill and CartoDB

I have found the examples from D3 quite interesting as a way to explore what could be done. They are light weight and as long as you have a good understading of what you want to achieve and have reviewed the validity of your data they can be a good way to start.

AmCharts is a charting tool that I have used on some projects, and that is also very easy to use.

If what you are doing has an spatial component, I have found TileMill to be an extraordinary tool that has a very low entry barrier. CartoDB is also an excellent tool that allows for easy to build and compelling map-based visualizations.


Another data visualization tool...

Hi Enrique,
as another tool for easy visualizations I would like to add Datwrapper (which is where I am a project manager and co-creator).
It builds on D3, adds an UI and the results produced are viewable in IE browers, too. Furthermore it is open source, which means an organization could add it's own layout or CI. This latter point is of consideration: To make sure that the visuals created are actually attributed to the organizations which made those. and Gapminder - lots of great examples

Thanks Enrique and Mirko for sharing these data visualization tools! I have also come across and Gapminder. It's not clear to me how much these tools would actually help you create visuals - but they are full of lots of examples. And has a list of great examples of visualizations used for human rights campaigns.

If there are other tools out there, please share them here by replying to this comment!

-- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Compelling visualizations and reverse sketching

Hi everyone,

as a result of trying to develop a workable way for non-coding storytellers here is an idea that might work for many. The approach consists of three steps and aims to make non-coders more competent in developing, planing, contributing and publishing compelling pieces. 

The approach consists of three steps: 

1. Build repertoire
2. Use reverse sketching to form a deeper understanding
3. Use sketching to think, to demonstrate and present a workable concept to other specialists like designers and coders

1. Build repertoire
Before you aim to high and start re-doing very complex visualizations, first built repertoire. What is the principle here? My example: If you where to start a Reggae band, the first thing you would do is to LISTEN to many songs from that genre, right? Only over time you would first learn about the distinctive bass patterns, the guitars, the singing, etc. 

The same principle can be applied to the creation of compelling charts. What you will find is that the experienced pro's in this field have a thorough understanding of the BASIC FORMS. They did them often, again and again. 

One great ressource with many, many visualizations can be found here:

2. Reverse sketching

Go ahead, look at examples and then try to re-draw one or several of those works on a piece of paper. The idea is that this reverse process will build a much better and deeper understanding of how these pieces have been built, often layer by layer. 

If you are unfamiliar with sketching (which really everybody can do, even the one's saying they are not good at drawing), check this link:

3. Use sketching to develop,...
In professional web development they use sketching a lot. This is to avoid starting to code too early, when the concept is not even clear. Sketching is a silver bullet in some ways: It helps you to think and come to something new. It helps to document and visualize. It is very quick (and messy to some extend). 

With some experience in sketching you have a powerful tool to come up with great visuals and actual implementation, working alone or in teams.

Let me hear what you think and whether you can relate to this...


Mapping Success: Committing to Child Survival

Unlike some of the examples above, UNICEF's 2012 infograph Niger: Committing to Child Survival illustrates an ongoing campaign, measuring its success to reduce the under-5 mortality rate in Niger.  This graph shows how NGOs, international governing bodies, and the Niger government have collaborated to work towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG 2015)  number 4 to reduce child mortality.  The infograph accompanies UNICEF's campaign #promise4children.  It flows logically from describing the problem--Niger had the highest under-5  mortality rate in the world in 1990--outlining the challenges, and showing how tactics have been implemented to reach a solution.  In many ways, it mirrors a monitoring and evaluation plan for this issue.   As the first image shows, from 1990 to 2010, the under-5 mortality rate has decreased from 311 deaths per 1000 live births to 143 per 1000 live births.  While Niger still has a way to go (the MDG 2015 target is 104 deaths per 1000 live births), in 20 years they have decreased the under-5 mortality rate almost by half.  By visualizing and imparting the problem, challenges, solution and impact, this infograph sends a powerful message to audiences worldwide and reaffirms the need to continue working towards achieving MDGs by 2015.  It both educates the public on the challenges facing changing the child mortality rate as well as empowers them with information of success.  This visual demonstrates how infographics and data can also be used to measure and convey progress and success stories, in addition to drawing attention to human rights issues.

The full progress report can be found here.

-- Brittany Landorf, New Tactics Intern

Good Example!

Great way to showcase progress and remind people that more needs to be done. Thanks for sharing, Brittany.


Help choosing the right tool to use

While there are hundreds of information design tools out there, choosing the right one is tricky. For more details about tools, look at Tactical Tech's own visualisation and tool reviews where you can explore tools that we have reviewed and tested. These reviews feature the perks and problems, how to make things, privacy concerns and examples of the tool. 

On this website we feature tools on:

- Combining and integrating data from different sources

- Cleaning an existing data set

- Showing tables with text and figures

- Showing changes over time

- Showing things on a map

- Showing the structure of a network

- Creating or modifying an image

- Creating a presentation or layout 


You've decided to bring in a designer - now what?

While there are hundreds of information design tools out there, there aren't many that are free, easy-to use and that produce appealing visuals. 

For internal reports or visualisations that would suit one of the tools available online 

At Tactical Tech we have an in-house creative agency for advocacy groups. In our new Visualising Information for Advocacy book we discuss managing the design process: 

If you are working with designers, it can be hard to know how to begin. There aren't any clear guidebooks, and a lot of us learn by trial and error. Setting clear expectations at the beginning of the project and agreeing what you are trying to do is essential to producing a successful piece of work. Being both open and clear throughout the process is essential.

The initial project brief is important to set the designer off on the right track. If there is confusion at the start it only increases as the project progresses, and the repercussions can be expensive and troublesome to fix. This is not to say that there is no room for a little creative spontaneity or flexibility in the process, but that the scope, the function and the requirements of the piece should already be decided before work begins with an external contractor such as a designer or a programmer.

Don't delay looking for a designer. Make sure you have time to consult as a team and to get feedback from potential audiences. All of these factors can really affect the project. This is also so that we don’t compromise on our ideas because we’ve underestimated how long things will take, and so that we don’t get to the end of the project and find that fundamental elements are missing.

In the book we go into further detail on:

1. How to create the written brief

Thinking about formats:

• Posters – even though they are printed quickly, they can linger on the wall for months – especially if they are well designed and beautiful.

• Printed reports – are static but tend to be relevant for only a particular time span.

• Online information – can be more flexible but readers expect online content to be up to date and to change over time.

2. How to find the right designer

3. How to set a budget and keep to it

4. Writing a contract

5. How to manage the schedule and the process

6. Production is a process

7. Closing the production process