A Visualization Challenge

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We are very excited to announce “Giving Voice to the Vulnerable Through Data and Design,” a 6-week challenge with Visualizing.org, to visualize results from an SMS survey on how people are coping with the economic downturn in 5 countries.

Last year we worked with MobileActive.org to implement a mobile phone based survey gathering bottom-up information from everyday citizens in order to gain a preliminary understanding of how populations deal with (and describe, in their own words) the ongoing impacts of the global economic crisis.

While not meant to be statistically significant, the survey itself was an experiment in rapid data collection, an attempt to get “the global pulse” by hearing from people directly how they are coping with economic uncertainty, and about their perceptions for the future.

The survey was launched in Uganda, Iraq, Ukraine, India and Mexico. Due to the intimate nature of answering the questions over mobile phone, many of the responses were heartfelt, raw, and diverse. Some of the most fascinating having to do with specific changes people have had to make in their lives to meet their basic household needs.

Of course, critical to Global Pulse’s mission of using new and real-time information to better inform policies for protecting the vulnerable, is harnessing and learning new methods for analyzing and representing data in meaningful and actionable formats.

That is why we are collaborating with Visualizing.org – an open online data visualization platform and community – to issue a challenge to cross-disciplinary thinkers and cutting-edge creative teams to use and display the mobile survey results, and reveal trends and patterns in interesting and compelling ways.

An overview of the challenge (which runs through 25 July) can be found below, with full details, data set and information on how to enter on the Global Pulse Challenge page on Visualizing.org.

We will be posting updates and insights on the process as we go along, and look forward to unearthing some innovative new methods, formats, and tools for visualization together with you.


UN Global Pulse and Visualizing.org challenge you to visualize the voices of vulnerable populations in times of global crisis.

A new innovations initiative at the United Nations, UN Global Pulse is exploring ways to rapidly understand how people around the world are impacted by crises – as they unfold. Last year, Global Pulse launched a large-scale mobile phone based survey to ask people from 5 countries in different regions of the world how they are dealing with the effects of the global economic crisis. 

Based on the survey results, we’re looking for clear, informative, and creative 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 to individuals perceive their future outlook?

This first data visualization challenge from UN Global Pulse is a testing ground for a global experiment in giving voice to vulnerable populations and making real-time data actionable.


The survey (conducted from May-August 2010) asked two multiple choice and three open-ended questions focusing on economic perceptions:

  • In the past year, meeting your household needs has been: Easier, Same, More difficult, Very difficult
  • In the past year, how has the (insert country) economic situation changed?: Better, Same, Worse, Much Worse
  • What has been the greatest change you had to make to meet your household needs this past year?
  • How has your quality of life changed over the past year? 
  • In one word, how do you feel about your future?

(The goal of the survey was to get 1,000 respondents in each country; however, in implementation not all respondents/participants answered all 5 questions. In the process of cleaning the data set and preparing for visualization we discarded any duplicates or incomplete answer sets.)

Deadline for Submissions

The competition opens on Wednesday June 8, 2011 and runs through July 25, 2011. Winners will be announced in August. 


The jury will be comprised of representatives from UN Global Pulse and Visualizing.org


  • The winning designer will receive an all-expense paid trip to the United Nations in New York for a high-level UN Global Pulse presentation to UN Member States in September 2011. The winner will also receive a $2000 cash prize, all courtesy of GE.
  • The winner will be announced online on Visualizing.org and featured in a Winner’s Q&A. 
  • An Honorary Mention winner will receive a $500 prize provided by GE.

How to participate

  1. Sign up online at visualizing.org
  2. Visit the Global Pulse challenge on visualizing.org for more information and to download the survey dataset.
  3. Peruse our site https://www.unglobalpulse.org/projects and engage with us on Twitter for more resources and ideas about vulnerability tracking & crisis impact monitoring.
  4. Submit your visualization (visualizations can be produced using any tool or digital medium. Your entry can be uploaded as any type of digital format) on visualizing.org.

About Visualizing.org

Visualizing.org is an open online data visualization platform. It is a free resource for designers and students looking for open data about world issues – such as climate change and global health; a platform for the creative community to share visualizations with each other and the public under a Creative Commons share-alike non-commercial license; a service that provides researchers, decision makers, media organizations, educators and the public with important information design; and a tool for schools to showcase the work of their students and help bring data visualization into the classroom. Support for Visualizing.org comes from Seed Media Group, publishers of Seed Magazine, and General Electric. For more, visit: Visualizing.org.

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