John Emerson
Margaret Satterthwaite
Publication Date
Publication Date: 
January 1, 2018

"Data visualization can make information more memorable, make it more persuasive, facilitate understanding and ultimately motivate action."

The use of data visualidation and other visual features for human rights communication and advocacy is a growing trend. This approach can help investigators and researchers draw a bigger picture from individual human rights abuses by allowing them to identify patterns that may suggest the existence of abusive policies, unlawful orders, negligence, or other forms of culpable action or inaction by decision-makers. In that context, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and Tandon School of Engineering at New York University (NYU) have developed guidelines to help human rights advocates use data visualisation more effectively.

The workshop activity outlined in the online guide is broken into a series of six topics (six sections of the resource), each of which has a corresponding list of options and choices:

  1. Choose a human rights issue.
  2. Discuss some kinds of data you might acquire.
  3. Consider what question are you trying to answer with your data and visualisation.
  4. Choose a chart type for your visualisation.
  5. Consider some data and visualisation hazards.
  6. Consider some ways your charts can be improved.

Beginning with a seed grant from NYU Tandon, the team that created these guidelines has conducted research on the credibility of data visualisation as well as ways data visualisation can deceive. As part of this work, the team partnered with non-governmental organisations focused on civil and political rights, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights, to examine specific use cases and test improvements within the context of active campaigns. These findings and other work are detailed on a website - including, for example, a collection of principles, including communication-centric ones, drawn from evidence-based research on data visualisation - and have been put into practice at a series of in-person trainings for researchers and advocates working on human rights.


e-CIVICUS 857, February 8 2018; and Visualizing Rights website, February 12 2018. Image credit: DiscoverText