Every September, leaders from around the world gather at the United Nations in New York to debate and pass resolutions on the biggest issues facing the planet. To understand what the key issues have been over the years, Al Jazeera visualized all 6,112 roll-call votes of all 193 UN member states from 1946 to 2018.
The visualization provides a decade by decade explanation of major moments in history as well as a robust exploratory feature which allows readers to discover exactly how their country voted on key issues over the entire history of the UN.
This project is the largest visual analysis of the UN General Assembly. This visualization revealed several fascinating insights including how nearly one-fifth of all resolutions have been about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This, as well as other interesting findings generated a lot of engagement with Al Jazeera’s global audience in English as well as Arabic.
Since launching in September ahead of the 74th annual General Assembly the story has been viewed nearly 200,000 times and has had an average time on page of 4:11. The story has continued to generated a long tail of web readership, months after publishing and is being used in universities and schools around the world as an international relations and politics resource. Members of the UN’s data and creative technologies team reached out to Al Jazeera and invited us to present the project as a new way of visualizing otherwise complex data which has a direct impact on people from all over the world.
First the data was collected from Harvard’s Dataverse. Next the data was cleaned and analysed using R, a statistical programming language. All of our source code was made available in a blog post to ensure transparency and reusability.
The visualization as well as the interactive quizzes were built using D3.js and React.js. The user interface was customized for desktop as well as mobile in order to reach our global audience.
Finally, social friendly charts were built using flourish.studio.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Abstracting over 1.2 million votes was the biggest challenge. Rather than simplifying parts of the story we used a collection of explanatory and exploratory data visualization techinques to represent the entire data set.
This meant that users could get a big picture understanding of the topic as well as drill deeper into the story to see how their country voted over the course of 7 decades.
One of the other challenges was to produce a visualization that works in both English and Arabic on desktops and on mobile. This meant reworking complete sections to work from right to left including the data visualization.
What can others learn from this project?
Data visualization has the power to discover new stories and insights from an otherwise complex dataset. This project demonstrated that in a way that was both interesting to our readers and our own team.