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Visual Thinking

Visuals need to be actionable

Infographics are great. But to truly be informative, visuals need to give us something we can use.

Infographics are wonderful tools to relate data from different topics. But they are not necessarily the best form to grapple with and grasp complex societal issues. If a poster shows there are 500 homeless people, and 20 children growing up hungry, which is worse? The data suggests we should look at the 500 because it is more significant, but our heart may go out to the 20 children.

As a policy maker I need data to get an objective view of the situation. But I also need information that is actionable. So, an infographic on the 10 main reasons why a child grows up hungry helps me. If in 30% of the cases it’s because there is a one parent household and the parent is too depressed to make breakfast, then that data gives me something to work with. If I were to conclude that the interventions needed to help the parent are too difficult, then I may choose to offer the children breakfast at school.

So, when I look at visuals, I want actionable information. An impressive example is the modeling of ethnic conflict by Bob Horn. It shows what happens, and allows us to choose the best intervention at the best moment.