Drawing by Numbers
Media students know that transferring information isn’t as easy as it seems to be. Even when you have a brilliant idea, you won't accomplish anything if you can’t convince the right people. Tactical Tech noticed how many activists struggle to effectively use data in campaigns. In order to drag them out of the '60 page report' syndrome, they created a website about data visualization.
Maya Indira Ganesh is the director of the Evidence and Action program at Tactical Tech, responsible for of the Drawing by Numbers website. She is originally a women’s rights advocate and has degrees in psychology, media and communication studies. Since 2009 she works for Tactical Tech, an organization that helps activists effectively communicate their information during campaigns. The organization provides resource websites and toolkits to support activists in their work, and they also give trainings and work with international partners on various projects. Maya and her team recently launched Drawing by Numbers. “For us, data visualization is an important aspect of using information for advocacy,” Maya explains, “NGOs (organizations that function independent from government), activists and advocates sometimes have a tendency to produce what we call the 'sixty page report' about their cause or issue.” Nobody wants to read such a extensive report. The solution to this is visualization of data. With a nice and clear infographic you not only make your message more attractive, but also more understandable for a diverse audience.
Data visualization as evidence
Pages full of data are useless if your readers don’t get the message. When you want to use information as the foundation of a campaign, you need to make it appealing and easy to understand. Your audience immediately needs to get your point. “Evidence is more than just text and numbers,” says Maya. By visually arranging information, you can create an image that will convince people of your argument and provide them with a foundation to act upon. In one project, Maya and her colleagues work together with a group of advocates against the extortion of sex workers in India and Cambodia. Their local partners in these countries investigate the situation and collect data about exploitation, abuse and violence. Tactical Tech works with the group to analyze how this information can be used most effectively to improve the situation. When they want to reach civilians, confronting posters are most effective. But if they want to convince politicians a short, clear report about the issue works best.
The people in Tactical Tech's team come from a mix of backgrounds including design, programming, activism, human rights documentation and communications. They provide their knowledge and experience of media and communication to help activists build strong and compelling campaigns. Freedom of information and communication is very important for the organization. That’s why they don’t stop at helping activists, Tactical Tech shares it’s knowledge with practically anybody. Drawing by Numbers is a good example. On the website, the team explains how you can visualize data yourself and how to adjust your infographic to your specific audience. In the how-to’s you learn to collect data, identify your public and make graphical designs. A special part of the site features a collection of tools for data visualization. Every data set is different and therefore needs to be illustrated in a different way. With Drawing by Numbers, you can easily pick the tool that’s best for your situation, goal and public.
Tactical Tech & New media studies
The website is primarily aimed at activists, rights advocates and independent journalists, but is also interesting for new media scholars. The subject data visualization is often featured in the courses of New media and digital culture. This semester, it’s a research topic in Coding culture. With Drawing by Numbers you can learn practical data visualization skills and discover cases to write about in your paper. If you’re enthusiastic about Tactical Tech’s info-activism, you could consider doing an internship. The organization often provides places for students in their offices in Berlin and Bangalore. According to Maya, if you’re looking for an internship abroad, it’s definitely a place where you can learn a lot. “What I like most about Tactical Tech, is that we’re always innovating. We’re trying out new things and try to challenge our own assumptions, methods, approaches. That way, we evolve new ways of understanding and working with information.” Want to know more? Visit http://tacticaltech.org and http://drawingbynumbers.org