Notes from Webinar: Using Info-Graphics and Data Visualisations to Engage

In our September 17th webinar, we focused on how to create effective data visualisations and infographics. On hand were guests Faraz Hassan from Global Witness and Maya Ganesh from Tactical Technology Collective, along with host and TABridge co-organiser Dirk Slater from FabRiders. You can also view a recording of the webinar and slide presentation.

In Yerevan, Armenia, where people are crammed into buses, this is seen as pro-car.
Know Your Audience: In Yerevan, Armenia, where commuters are often crammed into buses, some people would see this graphic as “pro-car.”

We began by talking about preliminary steps you should take before any visualisation project: You need to be clear about your goals and have an overall advocacy strategy that your materials will fit into. Most importantly, you should know your audience, and we mean REALLY understand your audience. Find members of the groups you need to reach and ask them questions before you start designing. (To learn more about preliminary steps and project planning, also check out the project planning section of our TABridge Fundamentals Guide, which served as the basis for key points in the webinar.)

Take the time to explore your project data and understand the different stories it tells, and how they do or don’t support your overall message. The data is the foundation of your visual message and the strength of the story it tells will be the strength of your visualisation’s influence on your audience.

Be clear about your goals for the visualisation:

  • Will it serve as a call to action? Do you seek to mobilise or recruit allies?
  • Will it illuminate or educate? Do you seek to win over neutral parties?
  • Will it present evidence or challenge current beliefs? Do you seek to overturn your opponents’ arguments?

As the examples below show, visualisations that compare and contrast data often tell the best story. And you don’t need to design for ‘one size fits all.’ You can repackage the same data to address different audiences.

Data about violence against sex workers.  Here the audience is Police.

In this visualisation of data on violence against sex workers, the intended audience are members of the police, who are among the main perpetrators of such violence. (Learn more about this project.)

Here is the same data about violence.  Only here the audience is Sex Workers

Here’s the same data as above, presented for an intended audience of sex workers.

It’s also worth asking yourself if you even need data to make your point.  Some of the most powerful images in advocacy have used metaphor or humour to carry their message.  Often less really is more, as with this poster about adoption.


Our guest speakers:

Faraz HassanFaraz Hassan (@farazhassan) works on digital communications for Global Witness, who campaign to expose the economic networks behind conflict, corruption and environmental destruction. His job is to tell the stories of these campaigns using digital and social media.

Faraz told webinar participants to simplify their visualisations. “Focus, focus, focus,” he said, to pare each image down to the data and the message that carry the greatest weight. He also reminded us that critical phases of the data visualization process may take longer than expected. Data tools are usually more complex that simple web pages, he said, so leave time to test the ideas AND the tools before your deadline. Another process that takes time and planning is good dissemination of your visual materials, he said, so plan in advance for your communications and outreach strategy.

GW - Nigeria Corruption

Caption Text

You can read more about how Global Witness has developed its infographics in this post by Oliver Courtney, Global Witness Senior Communications Advisor.

Maya GaneshMaya Indira Ganesh (@mayameme) is Applied Research Director at Tactical Technology Collective. Maya has worked on a range of projects that help marginalised communities use visualisations in their advocacy. She is currently focused on projects at the intersection of privacy and transparency.

As co-author of Tactical Tech’s essential guide Visualising Information for Advocacy, Maya offered several key lessons from that work, starting with the reminder that the guide has been developed and revised over many years, drawing knowledge from the work of advocates around world. (The guide’s newest version is due out shortly.)

She said one of the best ways to use the Tactical Tech guide is as a collection of examples to help you choose a “visual language” that best suits your own project and audience. It’s not always easy to think visually, and she reminded people to “start with what is around you.” What visualisations and images are in your office, for instance, or in the signs you see every day?

Don't discredit the power of humour

Don’t discredit the power of humor

For any visualisation, you should plan and design with the three ‘gets’ in mind:

  • Get the idea: Provide a snapshot that will quickly get the point accross
  • Get the picture: Provide some narrative, an image, or video
  • Get the detail: Show all the data!

Echoing Faraz’s point about outreach, Maya suggested adding a fourth step here: “Get involved.” In other words, give viewers a way to take action or at least a simple next step when your visualisation moves them. explores relationships between individuals and institutions explores relationships between individuals and institutions

For a great example of the above, check out the Land Matrix, which gives different views of the same data on land deals, along with ways for stakeholders to submit additional data.

To help get your project started with data visualisation, here are some basic steps you can follow:

  • Put the data into a spreadsheet, and clean it up. Get rid of any extraneous information and narrow down the contents to as few columns as possible for display.
  • Start with the built-in chart tools in many spreadsheet programs, or try some online services like: Datawrapper, and PiktoChart or even Open Refine
  • If your data includes locations that are useful for your message, maps can be a great start for a visualisation. Check out Ushahidi’s Crowdmap or Google Fusion.
Cuidando do meu Bairro

This map by TA Bridge member, Cuidando do meu Bairro, shows expenditures and is updated in real time.

To view a complete recording of this webinar and all slides, see the permanent archive online.


DirkDirk Slater (@fabrider) has two decades of experience working with grassroots activists and advocates to harness the power of information by gathering, packaging, distributing and protecting it. You can learn more about him and his work at FabRiders.

jessJessica Steimer (@JSteim) Jessica is the training and support manager at Aspiration, where she trains and supports community organisations around nonprofit technology best practices, specialising in business processes for nonprofit communications and technology sustainability.

Thanks to Jed Miller for additional event reporting.

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