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 visualisation and other visual features for human rights communication and advocacy is a growing trend. Data visualisation can make information more memorable, make it more persuasive, facilitate understanding, and ultimately motivate action. And within human rights research, it 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.

The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and Tandon School of Engineering at New York University have developed a set of guidelines to introduce human rights practitioners to some of the ideas and principles around designing effective data visualisation for human rights advocacy.

The workshop activity outlined in the online guide is designed as a series of six steps, each of which has a corresponding list of options, choices, and additional resources. The six steps are:

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

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; and email from John Emerson to The Communication Initiative on February 22 2018. Images credit:
John R. Holmes for the Open Society Justice Initiative report Presumption of Guilt: The Global Overuse of Pretrial Detention