Throughout the Arab region, neither media nor research organizations currently offer simple, fact-based and visual content in Arabic and English on economic and social issues relevant to Arab millennials. News outlets mainly share news but offer limited analysis, and their analysis is often based on opinions rather than facts. Meanwhile, think tanks, NGOs, and international and local organizations generate evidence-based research. However, they infrequently disseminate their findings to the public. When they do, they rely on long, text-based formats (reports or policy briefs) that are unappealing and inaccessible to the public because their messaging is too technical and often in foreign languages not in Arabic. While some research organizations are starting to create simpler content, it is still disseminated infrequently and is often difficult for the journalists and layperson alike to understand.
Improving data literacy on key economic and social issues in the Arab region has been the focus of the Bayanat Box platform. We have developed two campaigns on the Syrian conflict to defeat common misconceptions around it. Our first campaign was in collaboration with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut to mark World Refugee Day on June 20th, 2017. The campaign was made available on the Bayanat Box and IFI social media pages, websites, and mailing lists.
Bayanat Box followed this with a second campaign – the focus of this submission – on the Syrian crisis starting in October 2017. We learned a great deal from the first campaign and fed our learnings into the next. In this campaign, we were convinced that traditional ways of visualizations would not work as we discuss the refugees as humans. To us, they were not just numbers so we put greater efforts into humanizing the data around them. In this campaign we chose to use more animations than still images and presented the content in a way where Arabs can relate to and understand the challenges that Syrians face inside and outside of Syria since 2011.
The goal of the visual campaign was to “humanize” the current research and data around the Syrian crisis as it marked its sixth year through: a) using unbiased, evidence-based, and expert analysis; b) communicating simple and visual messages; (c) incorporating storytelling techniques to relate to the audience, and (d) reach young people where they spend their time and consume content – i.e. social media; and (e) be respectful to the region’s unique culture and values.
Given the data and news fatigue that Arabs face, the challenge was to speak to those with little interest in the topic of Syria. We focused on youth between 18-34 years old in countries that host Syrian refugees (including Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt).
What makes this project innovative?
The approach of Bayanat Box brings together a multitude of disciplines – from economics, social sciences, public health, infrastructure, and environmental studies, to journalism, media, design and animation – and builds on the latest advances in new media and social media technologies. These disciplines reflect the composition of our team which includes economists, social scientists, journalists and designers.
Given that this was our second campaign on Syria, we used our learnings from our first campaign on refugees, this led to us incorporating more refined story-telling techniques and new ways of presenting the data without adhering to the traditional ways of visualization, for example, by using statistical graphs or maps.
The way we addressed the topic of the Syrian conflict is new to international organizations (our sources) and Arab media outlets. We wanted to shed light on the issue of refugees but also wanted to show that those who stayed also suffered (through the "If Syria were 110 people animation", for example). It was important for us to humanize the data and not just visualize it in graphs. We used animations as the main method of delivery to tell our evidence based stories and had rewritten our scripts many times with the help of an economist, journalist, and a social media expert.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
The content was well-received by our audiences. It reached about 230,000 young people in Lebanon, Jordan, and to a lesser extent Egypt. The aggregate engagement rate for Facebook was 5% while it was even higher for Instagram at 7.2%. Arabic content had higher performance than the English. Our advertising in this campaign was just to current followers and the budget is extremely small, that it can be considered negligible.
During the campaign, we also published an op-ed on a US-based news outlet, News Deeply, to highlight the importance of data literacy around issues such as the Syrian refugee crisis.
Source and methodology
The primary source of data for the campaign:
World Bank.The Toll of War: The Economic and Social Consequences of the Conflict in Syria. https://goo.gl/7pzhmx
Data was then further validated and cross checked with other important and credible sources such as the UNHCR, UNICEF, UNOCHA.
UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response https://goo.gl/ISjlVj
UNICEF Situation Reports https://goo.gl/sYALCQ
UNOCHA Syria Page https://goo.gl/yCkjnV
Once we agreed on the sources of data, we summarized the reports and discussed them extensively to agree on the angles for the campaign. To come up with the content, we analyzed our previous content in terms of social media engagement to support the decisions made. Last, once the scripts were drafted, we ran a number of peer reviews to ensure that the data and the story provide new angles for our audience.
In terms of the animations, we used Adobe illustrator to create the visual stories and Adobe After Effects to animate them.