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When a Visualization Challenge is More Than Just a Contest

Anoush Rima Tatevossian
Jul 14, 2011

The submission deadline is quickly approaching (July 25) for a data visualization challenge we are hosting with Visualizing.org, “Giving Voice to the Vulnerable through Data and Design,” and we are particularly excited to review the submissions. Everyone who submits a visualization that helps shed new light on the dataset will be making a huge contribution to the Global Pulse initiative, and here is why:

This is a competition to visualize the results from a 5-country survey we commissioned to capture how people around the world describe -- in their own words - how they have been dealing with the effects of the global economic crisis.

It fits into our work directly because Global Pulse is looking for early indicators of stress, which can alert us to when a community is changing its collective behavior due to the effects of global shocks like food, fuel and financial crises.

To look for those signals, we have to understand how people talk about their coping strategies. Do they stop going to University? Do they take up a second-job? Do they start buying more of a certain type of food? How are perceptions different from place to place?  What are the key words, trends and patterns we should be listening for?

This requires a collaborative learning process, and we are just at the beginning.

Through our survey last year, we tested out one new way to get at some of those answers. We wondered: could you get a read on the general “pulse” of a community (even if just a snapshot) through a rapid, bottom-up flash poll over mobile phones? And what kinds of answers would people share?

We found some fascinatingly diverse, honest - and sometimes heartbreaking - answers to the questions we asked in the survey, and the data visualization community can help us dig through the results and help develop the typologies and the types of behavior changes to look for as signals of stress and coping.

For example, here’s a sample of some of the answers we got to one of the questions: “What has been the greatest change you had to make to meet your household needs this past year?”

That’s just a sampling of the what’s in the data set we are offering out to the data visualization community to pour through and engage with. We are looking for creative and informative visualizations that tackle one or more of the following:

  • How do people in different nations describe their quality of life?
  • What types of changes do people make in order to cope with economic uncertainty?
  • How do individuals perceive their future outlook?

The deadline to submit is July 25, and details on how to enter, as well as the raw data set can be found here on Visualizing.org’s website.

This data visualization challenge is a testing ground for our global experiment in giving voice to vulnerable populations and making real-time data actionable. We hope you'll join us!

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