Visualize the Voices of the Vulnerable Challenge Winner

Visualize the Voices of the Vulnerable Challenge Winner

Last year, UN Global Pulse launched a large-scale mobile phone based survey to ask people from five countries in different regions of the world how they are dealing with the effects of the global economic crisis. Using the data generated by this survey, and UN Global Pulse challenged you to visualize the voices of vulnerable populations in times of global crisis. We were thrilled by the more than twenty projects submitted to this challenge. It was a very strong set of projects that help answer these questions: How do people in different nations describe their quality of life? What types of changes do people make in order to cope with economic uncertainty? How do individuals perceive their future outlook?

Congratulations to Elena Paunova on winning the Visualize the Voices of the Vulnerable Challenge. She will be invited to the United Nations in New York for a high-level UN Global Pulse presentation to UN Member States, and will be awarded a $2000 prize, courtesy of GE.

Paunova's visualization begins with an overview of the five countries in the survey: Mexico, Uganda, Ukraine, India, and Iraq. By juxtaposing an average sentiment graph with the economic statistics for each country, intriguing questions start to surface. Why, for instance, do Ugandans report improvement at much higher rates than Ukrainians, despite having a lower literacy rate, higher poverty ratio, and lower life expectancy? Does Ukraine's higher unemployment rate answer the question?

Screenshot of the winning project

Though the overall numbers are interesting, the fascinating core of the Mobile Survey lies in the individual human stories found in the actual responses of the participants. Paunova's visualization allows you to drill down two more levels: first to a grid of responses for each country ranked from positive to negative, then to read each text message in its entirety. Exploring at this level of detail intimately connects you to the triumphs and challenges of the anonymous respondents, conveying a sense of personal contact rarely found in data visualization.

A final "data summary" page draws out some words and phrases that appear frequently, though this automated sifting is relatively muted, encouraging the user to really explore the responses themselves. The jury found Paunova's project to exhibit a particularly elegant visual design, that encourages engaging with the material. Congratulations again, Elena!

The jury also selected a runner-up: Andy Kirk. His project (embedded below) impressed them with the depth and rigor of its statistical analysis. Kirk's piece is easy to grasp, and manages to convey a sophisticated explanation and detailed contextualizing information about the countries. For this honorable mention, he will receive a $500 prize, courtesy of GE.

Thanks again to all who entered the challenge, and to UN Global Pulse for collecting this important data. View all the entries.

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cecilia's picture

Congratultaions! They deserved this award. Keep it up! - Green Water Technologies

Innovo Ideas's picture

Congratulations to winner and runner-up. Good job!

anoush's picture

Congratulations Elena and Andy! And a very sincere THANK YOU to all who submitted to this challenge.

You can find a write up about the submissions, by our Global Pulse data scientist, here:

Edward, Steve, Jacob - thanks for your comments on the survey methodology/background. We were certainly cognizant of this selection bias going into a mobile-phone based survey. As noted, this was not certainly not a statistically significant sample. Participants self-selected, and we had different partner organizations administering the survey in each country - so we were limited by the access which they had.

It was very much an experiment to see if this kind of rapid data collection is possible, and to see what kind of data we would get back. It was a messy data set, but we wanted primarily to learn the language people use to describe coping with crises, so that we could begin developing approaches for listening/analysis in the future.

That said, the approach proposed as a next step (regularly taking the pulse to track changes in sentiment) is indeed something we are planning to do. Longitudinal surveys over time would really give us a better baseline to understand changes.

Thanks again to the community - it's been a great experience to engage with you all on these important topics! We hope you will keep collaborating with us as we expand our work.

(In fact, we are looking for a dataviz intern, please feel free to circulate the info:

Anoush Tatevossian
UN Global Pulse

Elena Paunova's picture

Thank you very much to all the judges for selecting my entry among the many great submissions in the challenge – it truly is an honor to be recognized among so many great designers. I had an invaluable time working with this very unique and personal data set and it makes me very happy that you have found the visualization to achieve its purpose – many thanks to UN Global Pulse, GE, and for this great opportunity and recognition!

Congratulations to Andy also for his great visualization and analysis, and to all participants for the brilliant work!


Jacob Houtman's picture

Congratulation to Elena and and Andy!

I do like your clear and great looking visualizations. Your (and others) visualizations in this great challenge did inspire me. Thanks to all participants and of course to GE and Global Pulse for making it happen.

@Steve: regarding the positive perception in Uganda I agree with you this has little to do with the absolute numbers like literacy rate and poverty ratio. Besides your explanation I think cultural differences play a role as well. Maybe the average perception is biased by a general positive sentiment of people in Uganda? Therefore I think the survey is not bad, but more appropriate to notice a trend over time within one country than to notice differences between countries.

Steve Wexler's picture


you write:

"Why, for instance, do Ugandans report improvement at much higher rates than Ukrainians, despite having a lower literacy rate, higher poverty ratio, and lower life expectancy?"

Sadly, I think there is a simple answer to this question, but it underscores what I believe is a serious flaw in the survey methodology -- the percentage of Ugandan population that owns a cell phone is at most 29%, vs. an over-saturation in the Ukraine. In other words, it is quite likely that the people responding from Uganda were much better off financially than their fellow citizens so you are in fact listening to the voices of the relatively well-do-to.

I prepared an analysis of the survey findings here


lonelydatum's picture

Congrats Elena and Andy great job!

visualisingdata's picture

Congratulations Elena and thank you to all the judges for my runners-up mention!