Category Archives: Communication

“Big data is companies knowing things about our behavior almost before we’re aware of them ourselves.”

Kai Ryssdal, American Public Media, Marketplace

When did the current rush to turn data into pictures begin?

Perhaps it was when Hans Rosling wowed the world from the TED stage in 2006 with his dramatic data visualizations of global development myths. Data visualization has been around for millennia, of course, and Ren Descartes is credited for inventing the notion of graphing data in the 17th century.  Bar and pie charts followed in the late-18th/early 19th centuries, thanks in large part to the hard work of William Playfair, a Scottish social scientist, according to Stephen Few, author of “Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data.”

As Few details in his excellent white paper on data visualization’s past, present and future, the field exploded in the 1980s thanks to Edward Tufte’s seminal work, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” in 1983, and Apple’s debut of its personal computer.  Suddenly, everyman could become a wizard of telling data stories through pictures.

Now, of course, there’s an app for that, and everyman/woman can make a graphic and via social media share it with an audience of potentially millions in seconds.  Twitter and Instagram are alive with maps, graphs and doodles. The quality of our data imagery varies greatly, but strong pictures are emerging, and we’ve never had better opportunities to literally have a picture of our collective behaviors.

The results are fascinating: The Chinese search engine Baidu heat mapped the migration pattern of millions of Chinese as they trooped home to celebrate the New Year in January.

 

Graphic: Baidu

Graphic: Baidu

And Mediabistro’s “A Day in the Life of the Internet” chronicled how billions of people spend their time each and every day. We could go on.  

On a more serious note, Dan Munroe pointed out in Forbes.com recently, seeing outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases on a map – this one, a world map from the Council on Foreign Relations —  is brightly colored yet hard-hitting proof of the damage of the behavior of refusing vaccines.

Graphic: Council on Foreign Relations

Graphic: Council on Foreign Relations

 

Mobile phone data in particular may be priceless information for development, as a technology pervasive in developing markets.  One mobile carrier analysis showed where folks needed buses in Abidjan, leading to a rework of the city’s transport system. Another mHealth data analysis showed how human travel leads to the spread of malaria.

What does this mean for those of us involved in measuring and changing behaviors? For one, graphic data leads to greater awareness, particularly as information flows across social and mobile media.  We like shiny, pretty things.  And what makes good data visualizations? Some schools, including Harvard and MIT, are helping us move toward a more scientific understanding of what makes visualized data memorable, and the Rhode Island School of Design is working on how best to put across complex scientific concepts.

And as we become more sophisticated in creating good graphics, with an evidence-based understanding of what truly imparts information, we’ll be that much better in conveying ideas in ways that transcend cultural and even language barriers – and changing behavior on a visible, grand scale.

Being in Washington has professional advantages. We are assailed by all types of communication on a variety of issues—advocacy, mobilization, public awareness, and, too often, crisis.

It isn’t unusual for these types of communication campaigns to happen concurrently and for different issues.

Some of the best strategic communication thinkers are here in Washington and we get to see their talents on display in the traditional news, digital media, and on the street (spontaneous protest are not so spontaneous).

Credit: CQ Roll Call

Credit: CQ Roll Call

Unfortunately, we also get to regularly witness some heavy-handed or non-strategic communication…

And this week has been a good example of that.

The www.healthcare.gov website finger-pointing went to the Hill today…and it was a vivid reminder of what not to do when handling a major crisis situation.

For those fortunate enough never to have had to deal with crisis communication, here are the basics of crisis management:

Step 1: Admit Wrong. You wouldn’t be here if something didn’t go haywire.

Step 2: Take responsibility for the situation. Don’t blame others. This is especially true when your client is the US Government (Just saying). Explain what the problem is in simple and clear language.

Step 3: Explain how you are fixing the problem. Spell it out in practical, concrete language. Describe how and when you expect things to be righted.

Step 4: This goes for all the Steps: Don’t lie. Don’t complain. Don’t whine. Don’t overstate. But especially: Do. Not. Lie.

Step 5: If you don’t know something, say you don’t know. Don’t speculate and don’t hypothesize.

Hope you don’t need to use these. But now when you watch people and organizations handle a bad situation you’ll know what to listen and look for….and determine how they do.

 

It was Jim Lehrer who told the story of how technology has changed the way news information is gathered and how it is reported.

Several years ago the digital operations and the TV production team for News Hour with Jim Lehrer began to share office space. Shortly after that co-habitation the Fort Hood shooting took place…the story goes that when word came that there had been a shooting the TV/Print journalists grabbed for the phones and started calling their military/Pentagon contacts to find out what had happened…while the digital journalists were very quiet (as I remember the story) and focused on their computers….no reaching for a phone….reading screens.

The digital journalists were getting updates via Twitter (primarily) as well as other digital and social media….the information was current and in real-time. It was eye witnesses accounts and even official reports came through digital media.

Yesterday as the Navy Yard shooting was unfolding…I was in downtown Washington…in meetings, in cabs, at lunch, more meetings…and in between I followed my Twitter accounts to keep up on the shooting and its aftermath.

This was a local story. And the Washington media and national media that are based here did an remarkable job on air, in print, and digital. Kudos to them….(and yes, most print and broadcast journalists have Twitter accounts…)

I appreciate ALL of the news coverage no matter what format. And last night and this morning I read the news stories and listened to the analysis…but in the heart-stopping moments of the event I appreciated Twitter.

It was my source of information on the shooting, road blocks and closings, metro closings, and general updates from the District MPD.

Late-breaking news indeed.

 

PS…my apologies to Mr. Lehrer if have the specifics of his story off a bit

This is the first in a series of posts that examine how social media is being used to address social issues and create or expand a community of practice.

The following looks at Facebook and web-based communication in The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Middle East.


How many people have heard (or read) Dr. Spock? Not that one—the real Dr. Spock.

Benjamin Spock, MD.

The parenting expert.

benjaminspock

In 1946 he published the renowned Baby and Child Care that became the parenting guide for several generations of Americans. For all the advice he gave in his many books, the big take-away was: you, the parent, know more than you think.

Parenting guides have evolved somewhat since 1946. Now books are electronic and parents participate in live or web-based classes. They ask questions of pediatricians and experts online. They Skype their friends and family members who have already gone through the parenting experience.

This is how most of us get information for everything. But in many countries and regions it is a new and gradual change.

We talked to one of the pioneers of online engagement in Jordan, Jida Sunna Cubeisy, who is fast becoming the electronic Dr. Spock of Jordan and the Middle East with her website Ahaali.me.

Ahaali means “parents” in Arabic—fitting, as the site aims to become “a platform where parents can seek guidance on how to enhance their capability for developing their children,” Jida said.

She started Ahaali specifically for parents to share their experiences with parenting,providing guidance and expertise for other parents who might not have a mentor or guide.

“From my own experience, I never felt there was a place to reach out to and seek advice from, other than my existing social circles,” she said. “Of course there are plenty of global parenting blogs and forums out there, but I found none of them were very relevant to our local society and community.”

The site is built like an online forum, allowing community members to pose questions and engage in meaningful discussion. Jida hopes this community involvement will enable parents to confidently navigate the challenges of child rearing.

“All around me are parents looking for answers, and if I can enhance the quality of life of one child or one family, it would have all been worthwhile,” she said. “To think that we can do it for an entire region makes Ahaali both a powerful business and an effective life journey.”

In less than a year, Ahaali’s Facebook page has amassed over 6,000 “Likes,” and continues to grow—a testament to the growing influence of social media for good around the world.

To view the full transcript of our conversation with Jida, click here.

Google Glass. Self-driving cars. Hyperloop. All examples of technology that is rapidly becoming common place in our lives.

Though these technologies are not the norm in most developing nations, technology is playing a bigger role. Let’s look at four of the fastest growing tools adopted by many of these countries.

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones are making an impact.

A 2011 study by the Kenya Medical Research Institute found that implementing a text message reminder service vastly improved the treatment of malaria at health facilities in coastal and western Kenya. Workers who received SMS reminders improved their adherence to treatment guidelines for outpatient pediatric malaria.

In some parts of rural Africa, a single mobile phone may be used by an entire village to bank, contact relatives, or check the weather. For example, though only 45% of people in Kenya reported owning a mobile phone in a 2012 Plos One survey, 85% of respondents said they had used a mobile phone—many of whom said they own a SIM card, but do not own a phone.

Similarly, 60% of Kenyans have used a mobile phone to send money, and 65% have used a mobile phone to receive money, according to GSMA.

While living and working in Brazil in 2008, I was astonished at how prevalent cell phones had become. It seemed like everyone I met had their own phone. As of 2011, 59% of Brazilians owned a mobile phone and nearly a third of the country had access to the Internet—and these numbers have continued to increase dramatically since 2005.

Internet Access

Mark Zuckerburg recently announced an ambitious project that aims to make the Internet available to—you won’t believe this—every person on the earth. Called simply Internet.org, the organization has partnered with Samsung, Ericsson, Nokia, and other notable tech giants.

“The Internet is such an important thing for driving humanity forward, but it’s not going to build itself,” Zuckerburg said in a recent interview with the New York Times. Access to the Internet would provide an increase in education and health that many areas of the world still lack. But Zuckerburg isn’t the only one lobbying for increased availability.

In June, we saw Google test Project Loon in New Zealand (see the video to the right). Loon is a network of balloons launched 11 miles in the air to provide Internet access to the regions of the world that would otherwise be considered “off the grid.” As these projects gain traction, people are lining up on both sides of the issue. Many view Internet access plans as financially motivated acts veiled as humanitarian aid—our modern day Pandora’s box.

Social Media

Of course, access to the Internet leads to participation on social media, which can be used in developing nations to help unite citizens, report corruption, and disseminate information during disasters, to name a few benefits. The Arab Spring provides a perfect example of how powerful social networking can be as more and more people adopt it.

A recent study by Pew Research showed that people in lower income countries are more likely to access social networking sites than those who live in countries like Britain, Russia and Spain, once given access to the Internet.

Facebook use grew in the Middle East and Africa by 29% in 2012, and continues to grow today. As of March of this year, over 50 million people in Africa use Facebook. The chart below, from the Afrographique Tumblr, displays some eye-opening statistics on Facebook use across Africa.

Data Analysis

Charles Duhigg recently published an article detailing how Target used purchase history data to identify a teen girl in Minnesota as being pregnant before her father even knew. Similarly, analysts are using Twitter- and SMS-generated data to foresee rises in unemployment and the spread of disease. “We’re trying to track unemployment and disease as if it were a brand,” Robert Kirkpatrick, director of the United Nations Global Pulse team, told the New York Times.

Companies and nonprofits like Global Pulse are advocating for a push in “Data Philanthropy,” the sharing of data from private sector companies for public benefit. This data sharing would allow data miners to identify spikes in unemployment, price rises and disease, among other advantages, months before official statistics are released.

So What?

Access to the Internet and social media tools allow communities to develop faster, providing advantages they wouldn’t otherwise have. Continued technological advancements can accelerate change where it is needed most. Because technology is about a lot more than creating a robot that can do stand-up comedy

Ok. I will admit. I have a crush on Atul Gawande.

I love his book, The Checklist Manifesto and his no-nonsense approach to avoiding medical errors which plague health facilities in the US.

Rather than pointing fingers he provides a practical tool for hospital staff to ensure all steps are covered during hospital procedures.

In his recent article in the July 29th New Yorker, SLOW IDEAS: Some innovations spread fast. How do you speed the ones that don’t? http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/07/29/130729fa_fact_gawande Gawande examines how important global health practices can “stick” given the right approaches and tools.

As someone who has been following the literature and practice of behavior change for 30+ years, such a treat to come across this article that succeeds in explaining behavioral theory, research and practice in one easily digestible, non-academic article.

The big take from Gawande’s article….

The gold standard for behavior change is positive personal interaction. High touch (personal interaction, mentoring, one-to-one instruction) interventions in many cases can be more effective than low touch (mass media, instructional curricula, and technology) interventions.

So in keeping with his checklist approach I will share with you my checklist from his article:

1. Observe and understand the context for why a behavior is or isn’t being practiced
2. Learn why people are doing what they are doing- and what is getting in the way of doing things the right way
3. Don’t assume that technology is the best solution (especially in global health)
4. Instructions (a checklist) followed by careful mentoring can reinforce positive behaviors for health professionals
5. Mass media is helpful to sustain a behavior over time
6. Community interventions that require a community learning a new practice need: individual interventions that demonstrate the practice; observations of community members trying the practice and monitoring of the practice over time.

I’m eagerly awaiting his next book.

Kudos to our friends and colleagues at Games for Change

Earlier this week they launched their innovative new project, Half the Sky http://www.gamesforchange.org/press-room/

And to their partners USAID, The Ford Foundation and Show of Force.

Its formal name – Half the Sky Movement Media and Technology Engagement Initiative – is a lot to remember and quite official-sounding….it doesn’t really tell you how exciting and groundbreaking this program is.

It is a mix of games and social media (Facebook game came on board early) and traditional media such as short videos to help change behavior and attitudes toward women and girls’.

What does it do?

Evidence shows that a combination of communication tools – games, videos, social media, news stories can contribute to a shift in attitudes and behaviors toward women and girls (gender). Half the Sky has corralled these new and traditional media tools to create multiple sources of information that reach populations at all levels – national and community.

Half the Sky has focused on pregnancy care – getting men involved in pregnancy care, elevating and equalizing girls’ status in their family, and deworming treatment and prevention.

The games that are part of Half the Sky – developed by Games for Change – will be launched in Kenya and India and are being translated to Swahili and Hindi.
Community interventions include three mobile phone games.

So…who made it happen?

USAID…The Ford Foundation…Facebook game developed by Frima Studio…Games for Change…Show of Force…

Congrats to all…and THANKS!