Ideas & Insights Complexity, graphs, and borders

Complexity, graphs, and borders


May 28th 2018

Note: This is the third blog of a six-part blog series

Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

This issue of IEI reflects on a diverse array of issues including the challenges of telling complex stories, the visual representation of key data that impacts how we understand the world, and the intersection of borders, migrants, refugees and development.

  1. How to tell stories about complex issues (SSIR). “The science of storytelling—the study of how to tell stories intentionally to overcome psychological barriers that can inhibit or encourage belief and behavior change— provides insights that can help organizations tell compelling and persuasive stories about complex issues.” The article offers helpful pointers about why storytelling is important, though Tim Ogden’s critique in the faiV newsletter (May 21) seems relevant – namely, that graphs and data can be pretty influential, too.
  2. Our World in data – child mortality over time and country income level. It’s really declined, especially for low-income countries!

Graphic showing child mortality by income level of country

  1. Labor laws in 104 countries reserve some jobs for men only (The Economist).


Graphic showing restrictions on women'e employment

  1. Comparing expert definitions of the Amerian Middle Class (Brookings, via faiV). “I’m from a middle class family!”

Graphic comparing definitions of the middle class

  1. Vox Borders. With all of the recent news on how the US is treating immigrants and immigrant children, and the state of mobility around the world, migration and borders are more important to understand now than ever. Vox Borders has done some important pieces that shed some light on exactly what borders are – how they drastically affect real lives. “If you want to know a country’s deepest fears, look at it’s borders.” It is a fascinating collection of 6 documentaries across 11 countries – “the human stories behind the lines on a map.” Speaking of border perceptions and realities, check out this interesting, older article on how borders show up differently on Google Maps based on where you are browsing from.
Map of Arunachal Pradesh
Screenshot. See article referenced above to play with the interactive map.
  1. A thought-provoking podcast came across our desks this week. Displaced, a collaborative production between the International Rescue Committee and Vox Media last week highlighted the IRC’s proactive approach to education in humanitarian situations, a service and arguably basic human need that is often neglected in crisis response.  The podcast offers an interesting examination of scaling education programs in the midst of crisis and displacement, an exercise that is essential if our global community doesn’t want to lose an entire generation of Syrian children to the deprivations of a civil war that is now in its seventh year. In listening, we learn the startling fact that the global refugee crisis has displaced more than 12 million children under the age of eight years old. According to the IRC’s senior director of education, in the midst of the chaos, trauma and strife, education programs and schools are providing a  safe haven for refugee children and building a body of evidence around the power of combining face-to-face engagement with digital and broadcast distribution mechanisms (Sesame Street for Refugees!).
    But another driving debate embedded in this podcast is the intersection and competition for resources between the humanitarian aid and development communities. But even as the speakers in this podcast make the argument that more money should go to their crisis work, the emphasis on investing in education recognizes the current reality that humanitarian crises, inclusive of and maybe especially relevant to the current refugee crisis that we face, are not short term engagements. The reorientation to the Sustainable Development Goals should and are having an impact on the way that humanitarian response is done so that it builds the resilience of the local and displaced communities it serves — through investment in education and so much more. The dialogue about distribution of resources is an important one but shouldn’t leave out the very important attention required for the transition from crisis to stability.
  2. The new passport poor (New York Review of Books). “when it comes to selling carscredit cards, even mobile phone plans, the term “passport” is used as a stand-in for “freedom.” A German can visit 177 countries visa-free; an American, 173; an Afghan, just twenty-four.” And this is a pretty good segue to the stylistic, magical realism and, deeply touching Mohsin Hamid book on refugees from an unnamed Muslim country to a western country – Exit West.

“Perhaps they had decided they did not have it in them to do what would have needed to be done, to corral and bloody and where necessary slaughter the migrants, and had determined that some other way would have to be found. Perhaps they had grasped that the doors could not be closed, and new doors would continue to open, and they had understood that the denial of coexistence would have required one party to cease to exist, and the extinguishing party too would have been transformed in the process, and too many native parents would not after have been able to look their children in the eye, to speak with head held high of what their generation had done.”

8. And finally, this month at the Open Gov Hub, the shared offices where IMAGO is based, Harvard University’s Michael Woolcock gave a talk about the PDIA (problem driven iterative adaptation) approach to Doing Development Differently, and building state capacities to address adaptive challenges. IMAGO’s Sandra Naranjo joined the panel, bringing her experience and expertise working within the Ecuadorian government to address complex challenges and adaptive solutions.

The discussion was an engaging one, highlighting among many issues, the potential intersections between the Doing Development Differently movement (of which PDIA is a cornerstone) and the Open Government movement. In case you want to know a bit more, Building State Capacity at Harvard’s Center for International Development has just released a PDIA in Practice series that provides an accessible and applicable translation of how this unique approach as worked, and evolved in the field.