Survey on visual communication of scientific information and data through illustrations, charts and diagrams.
Survey results Using graphics to communicate environmental information - From data to influence June 2012 Hugo Ahlenius, Nordpil Marianne Fernagut, Envalue This report is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
2Abstract A survey was set up to collect responses on the usage of and capacity needs for creating graphics for the visual communication of environmental and sustainable development information. A survey was posted on the internet for one month in the spring of 2010, and 357 responses were received. The survey also included a few questions establishing the profile of the respondents. The respondents were active in the fields of research, policy and communications, and represented a wide variety of institutions. Most of the responses were from professionals in Western Europe and North America. An analysis of the responses reveals: • Most respondents use graphics for communication (91%). • Most participants prepare the graphics themselves (82%), but a quarter have staff to assist them in this task. • When assessing their own abilities, half of the respondents indicated that their skills were sufficient and half indicated that they were insufficient. • Many areas were mentioned when participants noted the areas in which they wanted to build capacity: analysis and data management, software tools, and design principles. This report is published at http://nordpil.com/survey The authors can be contacted using the above linkContents Background 3 The survey 4 Data analysis 5 Respondents 5 Graphics and communication 11 Capacity and needs 13 Conclusion 15 Annex – Full survey I
3Background In the field of research, data collection and statistics, vast amounts of numbers are col- lected, analyzed and transformed. The goal is that these figures will be transformed from mere numbers to information and knowledge. The target groups for the final products may differ – research papers, policy implementation or public awareness – but the aim is to communicate the results to target groups that will take home a deeper understanding of the issues at hand. On a daily basis, we encounter graphics – in the form of diagrams, charts and maps – as a means to communicate complex issues. They either stand alone or present an over- view of a topic in combination with explanatory text that provides context. Clear and easily understood graphics represent a common language with increased access to the research findings – a global language that breaks through cultural barriers. With the ever-increasing flood of information around us and the resulting information overload, powerfully designed visuals can effectively win over short attention spans and break through the noise. Badly designed graphics are missed opportunities where we fail to communicate our key messages. Our environment and the way it intersects with human society represents a complex web of parameters. Dimensions that have to be taken into account when visualizing this information include not only three-dimensional space but also time – history and pro- jections for future development and trends. In the field of environment and sustainable development, gaps also exist between the sci- ence and the implementation of policy. Clear and powerful communication helps bring about public awareness and increased understanding among policymakers.Objective The hypothesis behind the survey, based on past experience, is that skills and capacity must be improved in the field of visual communication to ensure a better understand- ing of sustainable development issues, in particular for policymakers in this field. This survey was designed to investigate the extent to which this hypothesis is accurate and to define the needs for improved skills and capacity. By classifying the respondents by region, profession and institutional affiliation, the survey was also designed to assess whether these needs differ between the defined groups. After preparing this survey, we – as independent consultants in the field of visual com- munications – will use the results in our services. By presenting this report, we are also giving something back to the wider community of professionals working with commu- nications, environmental issues and sustainable development.
4The survey The questionnaire used for the survey included eight questions designed to assess respondents’ capacity and needs for graphics and visual communication and to define respondents’ profiles. Google Docs was used to create the form and for data collection. Some of the questions allowed multiple responses, while others allowed only one. Where possible, the opportunity to give free-text responses was included to capture additional possibilities. The complete form, including all questions and options, is presented in an annex to this report. The form was accessible online from April 23 to May 24, 2010. It was publicized in vari- ous networks, primarily on the internet and by personal contact. In the announcements, recipients were encouraged to share the link to the survey with their contacts. In keeping with the objective of the survey, the requests for participation addressed groups working with environmental issues and sustainable development. Networks included: • IISD UNCSD-L (International Institute for Sustainable Development UN Confer- ence on Sustainable Development list) • PCST (International Network on Public Communication of Science and Technol- ogy) • LinkedIn groups addressing environmental and sustainable development issues • Eldis, a knowledge service focusing on development, policy, practice and research • SCGIS (Society for Conservation GIS) • WiserEarth, a social network for sustainability • Zunia, a portal for knowledge exchange among development professionals world- wide
5Data analysis The data was exported from Google Docs to Microsoft Access for further analysis and reclassification. The data collected from the options in the sur vey allowing free-text responses was reclassified into the existing groups, or new groups were created when possible. The responses for city and country were reclassified by country code to facilitate joining with tables on groups and for map preparation.Respondents The 357 responses received came from all over the globe, with a considerable majority from North America and Europe. In the last question of the survey, respondents were asked to identify the city and country where they were active (question 8). This data was interpreted and classified as needed. The distribution of the participants is presented in Figure 1, Figure 2 and Figure 3. Number of responses 125 11 - 25 6 - 10 3-5 1-2 Figure 1. Geographic distribution of respondents from question 8 (n=356).
60 10 20 30 125 USA UK Canada Belgium Sweden Germany Australia Netherlands India France Nigeria Pakistan Norway New Zealand Italy Figure 2. By country, from question 8. Countries with fewer than five responses have been omitted from this chart, which thus represents 78% of the total survey population (n=276). Further, the countries were grouped according to World Bank income class groups, separating lower-income developing countries from the higher-income regions. This classification shows that very few of the participants were from developing countries (Figure 4).
7 0 10 20 30 40 % North America Europe Asia Africa Oceania Latin America and the Caribbean Figure 3. Responses grouped by continent/region (n=356). 0 20 40 60 80 100% High income: OECD High income: non-OECD Upper middle income Lower middle income Low income Figure 4. Distribution of survey participants, classified by World Bank income class for countries, from question 8 (n=356).Institutions and roles Questions 6 and 7 were designed to establish the professional characteristics of the survey participants by identifying the type of institution or company where they were active, as well as in what role. Q6: Which type of organization best describes your employer? Q7: Which of the following best describes your position? The results for institutions and companies show a considerable spread, with “Research institution” representing a quarter of the responses (Figure 5). In hindsight, it is possible that this term was defined ambiguously, as organizations in the other categories might also be classified as research institutions.
8 0 5 10 15 20 25 % Research institution Non-governmental organization Government administration Consultants Private company International organization EducationFigure 5. Type of organization where the respondent works, from question 6 (n=355).Data reclassified, where needed. The responses “university” and “education” werereclassified based on the response in question 7, and research-related responses (includinggraduate student) were classified as “research institution”. The responses “student”(unspecified) and “none” are not included above.From question 7, the role and position of the respondents was determined. Research andcommunications made up the majority of the responses (38% and 23%, respectively),with “Policy development” and “Data and statistics” making up a lower proportion(Figure 6). Again, the category “research” may be seen as overlapping somewhat withpolicy development and with data and statistics, and together these groups accounted formore than half of the responses.
9 0 10 20 30 40 % Research Communications Policy development Data and statistics Other Web development Teaching StudentFigure 6. “Describe your position”, from question 6 (n=356). Data reclassified, whereneeded. Education reclassified as “teaching”, and a few responses, such as “volunteer”,were omitted. All responses related to communications were grouped together. GISresponses were placed in the “data and statistics” group (n=356). “All of the above”responses were classified as “communications”.Respondents working in communications functions were represented in all types ofinstitutions. It is also worth noting that respondents working in government administra-tions were represented in the whole range of functions (Figure 7 and Figure 8). This wasalso the case for respondents working in “research institutions”. 0 20 40 60 80 100 Research institution Government administration Non-governmental organization Consultants Private company Research, data and statistics Communications International organization Policy developmentFigure 7. Cross-tabulation of the responses in questions 6 and 7 (n=312) presented asinstitutions (bars), and the roles and positions held by the respondents within theseinstitutions (colors). The values are the numbers of responses.
10 0 40 80 120 Research Communications Research institution NGO Policy development Government adm. Consultants Data and statistics Private company International org.Figure 8. Cross-tabulation of the responses in questions 6 and 7 (n=312) presented as roles(bars) and the institutions where these roles were present (classes). The values represent thenumber of responses.Cross-referencing roles with the geographical classification revealed that there wereslightly more respondents working in “communications” and “data and statistics” forhigh-income countries, while more respondents were employed in the fields of “policydevelopment” and “research” in development countries.The responses for questions 6 and 7 correspond very well with the intended targetgroups for the survey, including the spread between different groups.
11Graphics and communication To further define respondents’ profiles, the survey investigated the means and vehicles for communication and the use of graphics by the participants, in questions 1, 2 and 3. Question 1: How do you communicate your findings in your work? Question 2: Do you use graphics to communicate in your work? Question 3: How do you use graphics in your work? Respondents communicate through a wide range of channels, with presentations and various forms of reports being the largest groups. Websites, blogs and social media ranked significantly lower, indicating that these are a secondary channel. The respon- dents still communicate through more conventional methods (Figure 9). 0 25 50 75% Presentations Reports for policy and decision-making Scientific articles and reports Fact sheets Press releases and newspaper articles Overview/synthesis reports (wide audience) Social media and blogs I dont communicate any findings Web Other responses: Interactive media, graphics (maps/charts), classes/webinars, campaigns, exhibitions, conferences, 3d prototypes, planning Figure 9. The means that respondents use to communicate their findings, from question 1. Data from 357 respondents, where multiple choices could be selected. A total of 1,207 different uses were selected. Data has been reclassified where needed. The bars are presented as percentages, but do not add up to 100% because multiple responses were possible. Question 2 investigated the current use of graphics. The vast majority of the respondents (91%) indicated that they use graphics in this communication, while 6% did not but indicated an interest in doing so (Figure 10). Respondents from the policy group (from question 7) included a higher percentage of respondents who were interested in starting to use graphics (14%).
120 25 50 75 100% Yes No, but I am interested in doing so No Figure 10. Ratio of respondents using graphics in their profession (question 2, n=357) Of those who use graphics in their work, most respondents create their own graphics (82%), from question 3 (Figure 12). The responses indicate that graphics are also reused and recycled from existing sources, while a quarter of the participants indicated that they receive professional assistance for the preparation of graphics. Among the roles identified in question 7, those who said they worked in communications roles were slightly less likely to create their own graphics, preferring instead to reuse graphics or have them prepared by dedicated staff. 0 25 50 75% I create graphics I use existing sources Graphics prepared by dedicated staff Figure 11. Sources for respondents’ graphics – from question 3. Data from 319 respondents, where multiple selections could be selected. In total, 491 alternatives were selected. Data has been reclassified where needed. In all, 82% of respondents selected the first option.
13Capacity and needs To investigate the existing skills and gaps, the survey included the following two ques- tions: Q4: Do you feel that you have sufficient skills in preparing graphics? Q5: Which of the following skills would you like to develop further? The latter question allowed multiple choices, while question 4 allowed only one response. When assessing their skills, almost half of the respondents stated that they had sufficient skills in preparing graphics, while a third stated that they were interested in learning more about visual communication and the design of graphics (Figure 13). Very few re- spondents had dedicated people preparing graphics for them. The results from question 4 were cross-tabulated with the different roles specified in question 7 and investigated. Most of the groups shared a distribution similar to the whole population, but the group of respondents who defined themselves as working in “policy development” stood out (Figure 14). In this group, almost half of the 52 respondents stated that they were lacking in skills and were interested in learning more. In an analysis for responses from low- and middle-income countries (n=68), the group that indicated an interest in learning more about visual communication and the design of graphics was slightly larger. It is worth noting that these respondents were working primarily in research and policy development roles, and few were from government institutions and working in communications roles. Question 5 was designed to identify the areas in which the professionals responding to the survey wanted to build more capacity, to further narrow down their needs and gaps. Participants were allowed to submit multiple responses. The needs listed received many at almost the same frequencies, except for “integrating graphics in reports” (Figure 14). The most popular alternative was one step removed from the actual design of graphics: “Analysis, statistics and data management”. Very few chose the response “no needs”. Cross-tabulation of the responses for question 5 over roles or country groups reveals a distribution very similar to the entire survey population. 0 10 20 30 40 50 % Yes No, but I would like to learn I dont know. I lack data, tools, time, etc. Limited skills, could improve Graphics by dedicated staff Figure 12. Assessing the capacity of the participants. Do you feel that you have sufficient skills in preparing graphics? (question 4: n=349).
14 0 10 20 30 40 % No, but learn Yes I dont know. I lack data, tools, time, etc. Limited skills, could improveFigure 13. Assessing the capacity of the participants, respondents from “policy developmentgroup”. Do you feel that you have sufficient skills in preparing graphics? (question 4: n=52). 0 20 40 60% Analysis, statistics and data management Software tools to create graphics Design of graphics Conceptualisation of graphics Integrating graphics in reports No needs, or not applicableFigure 14. Skill needs from the survey participants, from question 5. Respondentswere allowed to indicate multiple skill needs. A total of 306 respondents selected 726alternatives.
15Conclusion The profile of the responses indicates that the participants were representative of the intended target groups: professionals in research and communication working with environmental issues and sustainable development. Through the channels used, we can also infer that the respondents primarily work with – and monitor – international issues and are skilled internet users. An examination of the data indicates that some questions and options could have been formulated more clearly or various groups could have been merged, but on the whole – the responses provide good patterns. Despite this, the sample is small and selective, and not necessarily representative of the entire population of people active in this field. Above all, the geographical distribution is skewed. The questions that constitute the core of our investigation – questions 2 to 5 – confirm our hypothesis about the use, capacity and need for working with graphics and visual communication. • An overwhelming majority (91%) of the respondents use graphics for communica- tion. • Most participants prepare the graphics themselves to some extent (82%), but a quarter have staff to assist them in creating graphics. • While half of the respondents indicated that they had sufficient skills, the other half said their skills were insufficient. When analyzing the responses, it is also important to keep in mind that the respondents’ own assessment of their skills may differ from the way their target group would assess those skills. • The points where the respondents highlighted that their skills were lacking and that they could build capacity spanned the entire range of abilities related to visual communications and graphics – from analysis and data management to software tools and design principles. For question 5, very few responded that they had no needs at all (contradicting the responses received for question 4). • Based on the responses received for questions 4 and 5, and taking into account that this is a self-assessment, some caution is necessary in relation to the 48% who stated that they possess sufficient skills. We, as principal investigators in this study, found these indications interesting and valu- able, and we also hope that these results can be useful and relevant for the broader com- munity in communication, environment and sustainable development.Afterword We wish to thank all participants for their time and for their responses. Teslin Seale gen- erously donated her time to edit this report, for which we are immensely grateful. In addition, we would like to thank the communities that enabled us to publicize the survey – including the IISD UNCSD-L list, the PCST mailing list and many others.
IAnnex – Full survey This survey was available online as a web form using Google Docs from April 23 to May 24, 2010, and announced on a selection of mailing lists and newsletters, including PCST and IISD UNCSD-L. Participants were encouraged to share the link to the survey. Re- sponses to all questions were required for form submission. The full data from the survey, with all responses excluding the e-mail addresses of the participants, is available on request from Nordpil by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.The survey A short survey that addresses the use of graphic material for environmental communica- tion and dissemination of environmental data and information. The main focus of the survey is the use of graphic material like charts, maps and diagrams.About us We are independent consultants interested in the art and science of environmental reporting and its impact. We have developed this survey to gain an indication of the current state of affairs in the use of graphical material to communicate and disseminate information. The results of the survey will be shared on this website, and through other channels.How do you communicate your findings in your work? (1/8) * Findings are data and information collected by you or your institution. [Multiple selections were possible] Scientific articles and reports Reports for policy and decision-making (professional audience) Fact sheets Presentations (PowerPoint) Overview/synthesis reports (wide audience) Social media and blogs Press releases and newspaper articles I don’t communicate any findings Other: [Text box, for other responses]Do you use graphics to communicate in your work? (2/8) * Visual material such as charts, maps and diagrams [Only one response possible] Yes No, but I am interested in doing so No
IIHow do you use graphics in your work? (3/8) * Visual material such as charts, maps and diagrams [Multiple selections were possible] I create graphics myself from primary or secondary data I look for useful maps/graphics from other sources on the internet and copy and paste them for my own use I request custom illustrations from graphic designers or ask them to redesign existing graphics Other: [Text box, for other responses]Do you feel that you have sufficient skills in preparing graphics? (4/8) [Only one response possible] Yes No, but I would like to learn I don’t know. I lack data, tools, time, etc. Other: [Text box, for other responses]Which of the following skills would you like to develop further? (5/8) If you had the time/energy/money to further develop your skills and capacity in visual communication. [Multiple selections were possible] Software tools to create graphics (Excel, Grapher...) Design of graphics Conceptualization of graphics Integrating graphics in reports Analysis, statistics and data management Other: [Text box, for other responses]Which type of organization best describes your employer? (6/8) [Only one response possible] Government administration International organization Non-governmental organization Research institution Private company Consultancy Other: [Text box, for other responses]
IIIWhich of the following best describes your position? (7/8) [Only one response possible] Communications Research Data and statistics Web development Policy development Other: [Text box, for other responses]Please provide the name of the city and country where you live/work. (8/8) [Text box]Thank you!