Maps and infographics summarizing the key data points are among the very basic products of humanitarian information management. While most commonly used in disaster response situations, infographics provide essential support to all phases of the HPC.
Typical use cases for both static and interactive infographics in humanitarian settings include (but not limited to):
3W: Who is doing What and Where
Humanitarian snapshot around different thematics, such as baseline population statistics
Operation funding situation
All the visual products, regardless of the technology used, will follow the OCHA branding standards on styles, fonts, color palettes and templates. See the Guidance section (on the right) for further information about the branding standards.
Choosing between the static and interactive options
In many cases, the requesting person already has a particular type of visualization in mind. For example, at the moment of an imminent disaster, the operations manager may request a snapshot of the baseline information including the population statistics, age and gender distribution, vulnerability assessment and livelihoods data. Since this baseline data will always remain the same and there is thus no need for real-time updates, the static option will do the job required.
On the other hand, when a disaster is already occurring, the operations management may require quick information about what is happening in the field. There might be multiple organizations conducting a rapid emergency needs assessment and this data needs to quickly reach the decision makers. If a static infographic is used, this data needs to be manually processed and updated. In contrast, an interactive dashboard, when properly set up, will do the job automatically. In such a situation - especially if the internet connection allows - an interactive visualization would be the best option.
There are also many other aspects to consider, one important one being the access to internet among the user community. One of the key disadvantages of interactive dashboards is their dependency on high-speed internet access. Yet, especially in immediate post-disaster settings, the telecommunications infrastructure might be seriously damaged. Hence, the personnel in the field may not have access to constant (if any) internet. In such situations, one or more printed static visualizations might be strongly preferred over an interactive one.
When in doubt, considering the following questions may help to make a choice between the options:
Is the data going to update and if so, how often? For very frequent updates (e.g. several times a week or more often), a static visualization may be time-consuming, as manual updating and exporting is required everytime new figures come in.
How much time do I have? Generally, an interactive dashboard is quicker to set up, especially if using an existing template. Hence, when in hurry, an interactive dashboard could be the way to go, even if there is not necessarily requirement for filters, slicers or other interactive elements. Once you have more time in your hands, you can start creating a more visually appealing static dashboard.
What is the key element in the dashboard? If the main component is a map with a plenty of detail, the interactive data visualization tools may not be strong enough for accommodating this (unless using a map-centered platform such as ArcGIS Maps or Carto)
Who are the main users and where are they located (e.g. in the HQ, regional office, field office, mobile field team)
How is the internet connectivity among the users of the dashboard? For those based in the HQ or regional offices, there are usually no constraints to internet access. However, if the main users will be based in the field, will they be able to load and display an interactive dashboard?
2. Choosing the right software (see the Visualization page for more details about the tools and technologies)
Different software is required for creating static and interactive visualizations. On both sides, there are several licensed and open-source options to choose from.
The standard software for static visualizations, such as humanitarian snapshots, is Adobe Illustrator. This powerful vector graphics software is especially helpful for compiling and enhancing graphics and maps created on Excel, ArcGIS Pro or QGIS. Illustrator requires a subscription for the Adobe Creative Commons License. The closest open-source, free-of-charge equivalent of this software is Inkscape.
For interactive visualizations, the default tool is Microsoft Power BI, which is included in the Office 365 package. This software comes with a broad range of visualization options, including charts, tables and different maps. It is also compatible with plenty of cloud-storage services including SharePoint, DropBox and Google Drive. The final dashboards can be shared both for internal and public consumption.
More information about the software license request and the subsequent procurement process is available here.
No product is complete without proper dissemination and distribution. While the first step is to share the product with the requesting party, such as the operations manager, it is important to consider who else would benefit of the product.
Both static and interactive infographics intended for public use are normally published on the relevant operation page on HR.info. When uploading a static infographic, you will also have the option to make this available on ReliefWeb. In contrast, interactive dashboardscan be also made available on the HDX together with the relevant dataset.
In the case of public, non-restricted visualizations, it is often a good idea to inform the broader humanitarian community about the existence of the product. For example, a short message on the operations-specific Skype/Teams IM channel will bring the product to the attention of the IMOs from other organizations, potentially saving them from the effort of creating a similar product by themselves.
On the other hand, a product containing any sensitive or restricted information (such as personal data) should be clearly labelled as “Internal”. Likewise, they should be distributed only among those pre-approved by the operations management. Such products should never be made accessible through a public link but through internal channels (such as email or Sharepoint).
Whether working on a static or interactive visualization, the following tips will be helpful for easing the set-up process and improving the readability and usability of the final product.
Always include the important dates. In addition to the release date, also indicate a date when the data was acquired. For interactive infographics, this process can be usually automatized. With this information, even those coming across with your infographic on a later stage will be aware when this product and the related data was relevant.
Prepare to accommodate different scenarios. Today is the first day of a disaster the number of affected people is varying between 9 and 40. However, are these figures going to increase or decrease in the upcoming days? This is an important aspect to consider when setting up the charts, maps and other dashboard elements. When configuring the visualization settings, prepare them so that they will accommodate significant sudden increase (or decrease) in the figures.
Have your work reviewed. It is normal to become blind to your own mistakes after hours, or days, of work on one infographic. Where possible, get your work reviewed by a colleague. S/he might be able to spot some typos, wrong figures or other errors that you have missed.
Consider the ethics and data protection. Even when working with aggregated data, ask yourself if the infographic may accidentally reveal sensitive or personal data. This is especially important when dealing with very granulated data on settlement or sub-settlement levels.