“Visualize the Voices of the Vulnerable” Design Challenge Winners

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Last year, we launched a large-scale mobile phone based survey to ask people from five countries in different regions of the world how they are dealing with the effects of the global economic crisis. In June of this year we partnered with Visualizing.org to host “Giving Voice to the Vulnerable through Data and Design”: a challenge to visualize the voices of vulnerable populations in times of global crisis. On August 9th we were excited to announce the winners of the data visualization challenge.

Engaging with the global community of global innovators, designers and data scientists has been an amazing experience for us. Everyone who submitted a visualization helped us to shed new light on the mobile phone based 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. This kind of fast paced survey methodology fits into our work directly, as we are 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.

The winning prize was awarded to Elena Paunova for her uniquely compelling visualization of the mobile survey data.

This interactive visualization was rated the favourite of the jury because of its magnificent equilibrium and simplicity. It combines style and design with the possibility of digging into the data to get the original answers, but in a harmonized context where anyone can understand the main messages of the survey with just a glimpse. We feel that this way of presenting the data gives the user a fast understanding of the main insights but also drives curiosity about exploring the results deeply. A more detailed write-up of Elena’s visualization is posted here on Visualizing.org.

Honourable mention was awarded to Andy Kirk for his excellent static visualization, which presented the data in a very elegant and comprehensible manner. It guides the reader so the take-away messages from the survey can be easily extracted. Furthermore, the layout clearly walks us through insights as well as constraints and restrictions around the project, allowing the viewer to understand every aspect.

We received over twenty project submissions in total, and the quality of the participants’ visualizations was truly outstanding. While we were only able to award 2 prizes, we want to recognize the amazing contributions of all the participants. You can view and interact with all of the excellent submissions here.

We also wanted to highlight some of the characteristics and insights from a few of the runners-up (in no particular order):

Hopefulness and Hopelessness – Voices of the Vulnerable During Economic Crisis” by Steve Wexler shows an exceptional analysis of the data. The related in-depth blogpost also raises the question of how SMS-based surveys can skew results, because in countries without full mobile penetration, higher social classes will tend to be more represented. Another good suggestion is the benefit of conducting longitudinal surveys (repeating the survey on a regular basis).

How Was Your Year by Joseph Bergen is a striking visualization which allows the viewer to see the raw answers (including a full set of SMS answers) in an elegant format. A unique interactive evergreen feature to this submission is that it also invites additional people to respond to the survey online, or send an SMS to receive a “story” compilation of 5 other respondents’ answers.

The Visualization submitted by Eduardo Graells Garrido raises the critical question of the complexity of classifying natural language with grammar errors and ambiguity. It shows a very interesting graph representation that classifies the topics related to changes in the last year (Q3).

And Emmanuel Faure’s visualization is a scalable interactive framework that allows navigating into the survey answers combined with UNDP data, from accumulated indicators to the raw answers. We feel that it could be easily adapted to new surveys.

Visualizing Voices of the Vulnerable by Gar is a very original and interactive visualization where the viewer can compare different countries, and read the raw answers throughout navigating on a intriguing photo landscape of faces.


UN Global Pulse Data Visualisation by Richard Jong is an elegant interactive circular representation of the answers, and Isao Matsunami’s submission, UN Global Pulse SMS Survey in 2010, built an interesting representation of Q5 projected into the (Q1,Q2) space.

Through this experience we learned a lot about the kind of insights that can be obtained from this survey, about how to explore them and what to do in the future.

For example, while open questions produce unique and granular answers, the text is hard to process; so perhaps multiple choice and 1-word answers are better modalities for efficiency. Furthermore, given that the survey is performed via SMS, the questions have to be very precise. Understanding the demographics of the population reached by mobile phone surveys and the associated selection bias is a foundational subject when designing future surveys.

Conducting longitudinal surveys (repeated questions over time) in the same place will be one of the priorities of Global Pulse for the coming months: understanding the dynamics inside a specific population is critical to find changes in collective behaviour related to slow-burning crisis. For this goal, it is important to establish a baseline and a prototypical dynamic range of the answers. It can also open the door to a more objective inter-country comparison.

Once again, we would like to thank again Visualizing.org and all the participants for their involvement in this project, both through submissions of visualizations and insightful conversation.

Miguel Luengo-Oroz is Global Pulse’s Data Scientist, and was among the judges for the Visualizing.org challenge.

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