Blog / May 9, 2014

The power of the infographic

Global Witness has a good reputation for producing detailed, authoritative reports based on investigations that can take up to two years. This remains right at the heart of what we do. But increasingly – perhaps belatedly – we are looking for ways to tell the same stories in other ways, to reach wider audiences and make our campaign messages travel further.

In practice, this can mean doing quite simple things. Three weeks ago, we published a report exposing how killings of environmental activists are increasing dramatically. Its findings are shocking and got a lot of international media attention, including the front page of the Huffington Post in the US, Al Jazeera, the Guardian, TV Globo and others.

Huffington Post Infographics

The report had a big impact online. Mostly this was because it very clearly shows how the world’s poorest and most vulnerable are on the frontline of increasing competition for natural resources. That strikes a chord with people’s natural sense of justice – online audiences are only human, after all.  It was also partly helped by being a very global story, so it resonated in many distinct local and national contexts.

Its reach was greatly helped by the infographics we designed with our friends at the Open Knowledge Foundation – I’ve pasted in stills at the bottom of this post, or you can use the interactive version here. They brought out some of the key themes in a very simple and stark manner, and they make sense to people with lower literacy levels or other languages.

On social media, the images were by miles the most shared content we’ve posted this year. This underlines the old truism that a picture is worth a thousand words, at least for some of your audience. The key message in a story reaches a much wider audience if the core data can be brought out from the detail. I reckon Twitter is a good proxy for how many people actually think about and digest information – not just online but in general.

Of course, that’s absolutely not to say we don’t need  in-depth reports. It is the backbone of our research, and some read them from cover to cover, and it would be hard to say anything at all without such research – visually or otherwise. But in this case, where the data is rich and tells a simple, powerful story, it’s a very handy addition to the campaigning toolkit.

There are plenty of other cases we work on which would benefit from the same approach and we hope to do much more of this in future.

Oliver Courtney is Senior Communications Advisor at Global Witness. Follow him on Twitter on @ocourtneygw.