Atlas of Migration 2019

Category: Open data

Country/area: Italy

Organisation: Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography – European Commission

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 18/12/2019

Credit: Dario, Tarchi; Francesco, Sermi; Sona, Kalantaryan; Martina, Belmonte; Simon, McMahon; Amalia, Gilodi.

Project description:

The Atlas of Migration is both an online tool and a book. It contains 198 country fiches, dividing EU from non-EU countries and territories.

It collects migration-related data from many official sources, harmonising, validating, keeping it updated and showing it in an easy-to-read format.

By making global migration data easy-to-access and use, the Atlas directly support policy-makers (European Commission) and contributes to an informed and evidence-based public debate on a topic especially sensitive and relevant for Europe nowadays and in the years to come.

The Atlas allows policy-makers, researchers, journalist and general-public to start a conversation on migration.

Impact reached:

Since its launch on 18 December 2019 at the UNHCR Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, the Atlas of Migration reached wide dissemination and received very positive feedback from a large and heterogeneous audience. It attracted the attention of high-level participants, including EU Commissioners and Heads of States.

In 44 days, from its publication on 18 December 2019, the tool scored a total number of 11260 views – an average of about 256 views per day. These statistics do not account for the PDF copies of the Atlas that have been downloaded, nor for the printed copies of the book that have been distributed.

Within the European Commission, the Atlas has been identified as the tool providing background reference data to inform the policy-making level in all EC‘s departments dealing with migration. This includes in particular:

  • the drafting of new legislative initiatives in the areas of International Migration, International Development and Cooperation, Asylum and International Protection, Integration of Migrants, etc.
  • the briefing of high-level representatives of the EC in preparation of official meetings.

At national level, the European Migration Network (EMN) – an official network chaired by the EC and gathering together experts appointed by the national authorities of the 27 EU countries to provide reliable and comparable information on migration – asked for:

  • Translation of the Atlas into the 24 languages of the EU.
  • Integration of the Atlas with the EMN Country Fact Sheets, their annual reference publication.

At international level, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has requested a series of ad hoc training sessions based on the Atlas.


The already positive and visible impact of the Atlas is expected to become stronger over time, with the increase in users, further optimisation of the product and with the development of Atlas-based activities with partners.

Techniques/technologies used:

As most of the online tool, the Atlas of Migration is based on both a frontend and a backhand.

  • Frontend

Let’s start with the frontend, which is the part visible to the user.

Tableau is the main tool used to develop the Atlas of Migration.

The Atlas is a single workbook, made of about 160 sheets organised in six dashboards. The current A4 format of the dashboards was adopted to match the printed version of the Atlas, which targets a less digital-skilled user. First and last dashboards provide introduction and sources-information respectively; the four central dashboards represent the core of the Atlas and are divided into two parts: EU Member States (second and third) and non-EU countries and territories (fourth and fifth). Each dashboard is divided into thematic areas such as demography, asylum, residence permits, integration of migrants, etc. Each thematic area shows one or more charts. Chart-description and additional info are provided in tooltip.

Made with Tableau Desktop and published on Tableau Server, the Atlas shows 60 different indicators belonging to 52 datasets from 12 international sources.

  • Backend

All the processes running in background – including the gathering, harmonising, validating, keeping and updating of data – make the backend.

Through a Tableau-MongoDB connector, the workbook draws on a centralised repository of cleaned, harmonised and validated data. The data repository, which is common to all KCMD tools, is constantly updated thanks to automatic routines that continuously check the original sources.  

An additional routine (based on Tableau tabcmd) runs every night producing for each country a 2-page PDF that can be easily downloaded by the user.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Both challenges and strengths of the project are included in its three pillars:

  1. Respect the sensitiveness and complexity of the topic.

Migration is a complex and sensitive topic prone to manipulation through misinformation and ‘fake news’. The Atlas tackles this issues using a comprehensive approach that covers with data all aspects of migration and related fields. It informs people through solid evidence, without oversimplifying migration, but showing that it is about not only how many people move, but the context in which they move, how they fare in the host society, the relationships between countries, etc.

  1. Adopt a user-centric approach.

Focusing on the user has been quite difficult since the Atlas targets a broad variety of users with different levels of knowledge on migration: policymakers, practitioners, journalists and the general public.

The objective of the project was to bring together the most relevant data on migration and related topics, which are generally scattered across the web, in a concise but comprehensive country-overview. We needed to avoid overwhelming the user with too much information, without oversimplify the topic. We did it by selecting 60 indicators out of thousands and visualising theme in two A4 sheets.

A second challenge was to select the most appropriate type of visualisation, looking for a balance between appeal and clarity.

  1. Ensure impartiality and trustworthiness.

One of the main objectives was to minimise the risk of biased interpretation of the visualised data.

Trustworthiness was guaranteed by providing full description of the original data together with the direct link to their source.

In this way, the Atlas is a starting point for any further analysis.

It does not offer pre-cooked explanations nor miraculous answers, but it rather sets the bases to start a genuine conversation around reliable migration data.

What can others learn from this project?

There are two main lessons that we learned while developing the Atlas of Migration:

  • Focusing on the user is always a winning approach
  • Dealing with complexity is possible

The Atlas was designed to target a variety of users with different skills and knowledge of migration. This is why we decided to design a single product in two different formats: an online tool and a printed book, reaching users with different digital skills. Moreover, since the target audience of the Atlas included policymakers, data-journalists, researchers and the general public, we made an effort to make the Atlas easy-to-read and understand, without oversimplifying the topic.

We can deal with complexity using a systematic and structured approach. Often data are not missing, but rather they are too much and too scattered across different organisation focusing on specific aspects. Dealing with migration required to apply a comprehensive approach. Yet the information were structured in topics and sub-topics, following a well-defined reading key (i.e. from the demography in the country, to the migrants’ population, to the number of residence permits issued every year and so on).

All the information were putted in the right context and we also included in the book a how-to-read section that explains with simple words how to read each chart; the same explanation was made available in tooltip for the online tool.

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