Do it with data: Writing stories using the Migration Data Portal

The Global Migration Data Portal makes international migration data and information more accessible, visible, and easier to understand.

Data-driven stories on migration are a powerful tool to counter what most in the migration field have known for years—that public opinion and perceptions about migrants and migration often do not match reality.  This mismatch matters because public opinion and perceptions influence the debate and policy making on migration, which should be based on evidence.

With this mismatch in mind, the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) launched the Global Migration Data Portal. Created for those interested in migration, including data journalists and journalists, the Portal makes international migration data and information more accessible, visible, and easier to understand, bringing the bigger picture of migration into sharper focus.

Compared to traditional migration stories, data-driven stories hold the advantage of visualizing and simplifying complex migration issues into something the public and decision makers can relate to and understand. They can shape public opinion by uncovering unknown trends and counter-intuitive surprises that make the public and decision makers look afresh at migration issues. Not surprisingly, data add authoritative evidence to stories that may otherwise appear anecdotal or reinforce—even unintentionally—myths.

Since the Portal’s launch, IOM’s GMDAC has received inquiries from data journalists and journalists regarding migration data. The types of questions have been grouped below into the five 5 basic elements of a news story, the Five W’s (and H), providing a short guide for how data journalists and journalists can use the Portal to find migration data and write better stories.


The top most-frequent question from media is where to find datasets or information on specific migration topics.

This comes as no surprise. Migration data are hard to find because they are scattered across different organizations, agencies and governmental ministries, and if they exist, are not always easily accessible, if at all.

To provide guidance, the Portal summaries key data sources for over 30 migration topics or themes, and includes descriptions of data strengths and weaknesses.  It also maps data sources available for all 23 commitments of the Global Compact for Migration.

In addition, the Portal’s interactive map brings together more than 75 indicators on international migration from 20 data providers while providing data disaggregation by country, subregion and region for more refined research and analysis.


The second most-frequent type of question from media is an important one as the answer provides stories with their newsworthiness and context. How many people/migrants…. This question comes in many forms and the answer(s) can show the significance and impact of migration.

Although migration figures are at best, estimates, the Portal provides latest migration figures in (1) the recent trends section of the thematic pages and (2) in the map’s statistical profiles.

While the recent trends sections provide latest figures based on the migration theme selected, the map’s statistical profiles include latest figures for a country and region.  These profiles also include contextual information, such as demographic and employment figures, and links to relevant additional resources for migration data sources and information. The profiles are located underneath the interactive map and automatically generated when user click on any of the map’s indicators.


Journalists’ livelihood is based on credibility—including how well they know and understand the subject on which they are reporting. Writing stories on migration poses certain challenges because the migration field is replete with loaded terminology that is used interchangeably.

What is the difference between smuggling vs trafficking, refugee vs asylum seekers, and migration stocks vs flows? To use the correct terms, the media can turn to the Portal’s thematic pages for internationally accepted definitions across various migration topics and find migration glossaries in the tools section.

Words matter because certain migration words have clear legal definitions and international responsibilities. Playing fast and loose with the language has implications on people needing international protection, perpetuates stereotypes and feeds fears.


Another important question is when exactly are new data or information published or updated on the Portal? To keep track of this, users can subscribe to the Portal Alert, a monthly update that maintains users informed of new and relevant data, data sources and policy resources, as well as recently released videos and blogs on the Portal.


Migration data can be easily confusing even for seasoned data journalists, especially when different statistics on the same migration subject exist. Why do different migration data sources cite different migration statistics for the same migration subject is a frequent question from media.

Different figures can exist because sources use different data collection methodologies, define migration terms differently, and datasets are often not harmonized, among other reasons. In fact, the problem is significant enough that governments, civil society, and the private sector have called for improving data: harmonizing data collection methodologies; developing standard statistical definitions for migration terms; and integrating national data systems, for example.


Journalists also need to identify who could be key sources from which to gather background information, context and compelling quotes. Data journalists particularly need to find who understands migration datasets well, to report accurately on findings.

The Portal’s series of blogs and video interviews—published bimonthly—provides journalists and data journalists with a good start on identifying relevant subject-matter and data experts that understand diverse migration topics and datasets at the global, regional and national perspectives.

Have questions or want more ideas on how to use the Portal? Write us an email.

Visit the Global Migration Data Portal and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.