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So you want to change the world, and you know that using images and other visual content is an excellent way to convince people to support your cause. But what's the best approach to take? What should that visual content look like? What information should you include? How do you decide?
Enter Visualising Information for Advocacy, published by the Tactical Technology Collective. This guide to data visualization and image selection is packed with strategies, tips, and concrete examples. Here are some highlights.
To get people to support your mission, you need to choose a rational, moral, or emotional appeal, or a combination. You can also make use of these three strategies of intervention:
Interruption "works to challenge the dominant narrative or jar the normal way of seeing things. It can build on the way people already care about things, but it can also act as a reminder or invitation to like-minded people."
For example, World Wildlife Fund ran a campaign in China to encourage people to drive less. WWF created an enormous, cloud-shaped balloon and attached it to a car's tailpipe. The balloon's caption read: "Drive one day less and look how much carbon monoxide you'll keep out of the air we breathe."
Education often does deeper work, "transforming people's perceptions over time by gradually shifting the dominant narrative and … bringing us to new answers."
An example is a campaign sponsored by the Women Empowerment Program at the Hariri Foundation in Lebanon. This campaign focused on language, specifically, the accent (Kasra) that, in Arabic, is placed underneath a word to emphasize that word is feminine or addressed to women. If the mark isn't there, the word is masculine by default.
The campaign featured the mark on billboards in red. Magazines featured red stickers so that people could add a red accent themselves where they wanted it. This campaign was a simple way to start a conversation about gender equality.
Coercion "mainly aims to influence the people who directly oppose a position or will not change in response to other kinds of appeal. It leads audiences to look behind the dominant narrative, at the details."
In 2009, it was revealed that many members of the British Parliament had wrongfully claimed expenses for reimbursement. In early 2010, The Guardian published an infographic and spreadsheet showing these expenses clearly, a great example of coercion as a strategy. Some members of Parliament repaid expenses, others resigned from their posts, and criminal charges were brought against three others.
An intervention might not solve the problem you are working on, but can serve as a catalyst for positive change.
Also consider your approach. How involved are the people you're trying to reach? Are they only peripherally involved; do they need to be drawn in? Or are they already extremely involved in the issue — do they need a fresh perspective or novel ways to engage?
The answers to these questions helps inform your decision on whether to rely more heavily on visuals, summarize your arguments through a combination of data and visuals, or place a greater emphasis on data.
Don't rely on maps, charts, or graphs because that's what you're familiar with; instead, use the best medium or format or organizing principle to express the idea best. Don't make an infographic unless you have a really good reason (we're drowning in infographics), and don't make a map without a goal or strategy.
The book describes eight organizing principles to help you craft stories with information. For instance, Good Magazine created an infographic that uses connections to compare direct consumption of water via showering with indirect consumption via the food we eat. Then, for each food that requires a large amount of water to produce, a food that requires a lower amount is also presented.
It sometimes make sense to give people access to all of the data that you have (as opposed to an infographic where you use just carefully selected data to tell a story). "The art in getting the details is to allow audiences to explore the evidence for themselves to find the stories that mean something to them." An excellent example is the video that Sourcemap produced (see above).
Another great example is the I Love Mountains campaign against mountain-top removal for coal mining. You can find out how much of your energy is coming from coal mined via mountain-top removal on the campaign's website at iLoveMountains.org. Put in your zip code and get a map. This draws people in and makes them care about the problem.
To complement the strategy and approach you're considering, here are five questions that will guide you through fleshing out your visual campaign.
The book provides an overview of the most common data visualization tools out there, including LibreOffice, OpenOffice, or Microsoft Excel; OpenRefine; Tableau Public; OpenHeatMap; Google Earth; TileMill; and D3. (Tableau Desktop Professional is also available through TechSoup. See this blog post for information about why you might need the paid version of Tableau.) You can get more information about these tools and reviews of even more at the Visualising Information for Advocacy website.
Image 1: Tactical Technology Collective
Video: Sourcemap / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Image 2: Appalachian Voices
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.