Let's visualize it! Making sense of globalization through data visualization

Politics & Society
Dienstag, 6. Mai 2014 - 15:00 bis 16:00
stage A



Making sense of our world at a time of rapidly growing complexity is becoming more and more of a challenge. At the same time, the amount of available data is exploding, providing a foundation for many insights yet to be discovered. But how do we get from data to knowledge? In the session, the role of data visualization in exploring, understanding and communicating the interdependent developments of our globalized world will be looked at from different angles.


Globalization and technological progress are the strongest drivers of worldwide societal change. On the one hand, this leads to an incredible increase in complexity that challenges our understanding of the world, creates new systemic risks and calls for a radical re-thinking of the foundations of decision-making. On the other hand, unimaginable amounts of data are becoming accessible, from real-time data such as mobile phone connections, tweets, social network evolution, local transport monitoring or sales figures to high-quality aggregated data, e.g., on trade, migration, energy use, well-being or CO2-emissions, provided by international institutions such as the UN, the OECD, the IMF or the World Bank. All these data provide a huge treasure trove of evidence that in one way or another mirrors myriads of aspects of the world we live in.

So how can we exploit this treasure trove to make sense of global developments? How do we arrive at improved ways of dealing with global complexity, at more informed debates and eventually at better decision-making, both on an individual and at a collective level? How do we get from evidence to insights, from data to knowledge?

The full sequence of data-processing involves a number of (interwoven, non-linear) steps: data needs to be explored, analyzed, interpreted and communicated. Yet, humans are in fact quite bad at working with data displayed as numbers. That’s why data visualization plays a crucial role in each of these steps. Moreover, visualization can help to identify new patterns and provide completely new views of topics that defy mere statistical analysis.

As an example, the Global Economic Dynamics (GED) team at the Bertelsmann Foundation has recently developed GED VIZ, a web-tool that lets users create slideshows of interactive visualizations to be embedded in other web pages, as shown here (here is the original article the slideshow is taken from). Instead of merely comparing the economic performance of countries (e.g., with respect to GDP, government debt or unemployment), it focuses on showing exchange flows and relations between countries and thus helps researchers, teachers, consultants and journalists with exploring and sharing what globalization is about.

We’ll take a peek at GED VIZ in the session’s introduction, but leave the stage mainly to three speakers to highlight from different angles how visualization can help us to make sense of globalization: Tariq Khokhar from the World Bank will provide us with some insight about where the data come from in the first place and the challenges data providers have to deal with; Moritz Stefaner will highlight tools he designed for the OECD to explore worldwide well-being; and Maya Ganesh will then talk about how we can raise global awareness for issues rooted in local experiences. After these short talks, we’ll discuss the role of data visualization in exploring, understanding and communicating global issues and how the future of data visualization might look.


  • Maya Ganesh, Programme Director “Evidence and Action” at the Tactical Technology Collective
  • Tariq Khokhar, Open Data Evangelist at the World Bank
  • Moritz Stefaner, Truth and Beauty Operator



  • Jan Arpe, Project Manager “Global Economic Dynamics” at the Bertelsmann Foundation


Presented by the Bertelsmann Foundation

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