Ways of seeing: Peace process data-viz as a research practice

flex

This article uses John Berger’s idea (1972) that images are connected to ‘ways of seeing’ to reflect on the creation of interactive visualizations of peace agreement and peace process data. We reflect on three visualizations created during a three-year long collaboration. We first describe our data, the peacebuilding ambitions for its use, and why we produced interactive forms of visualization. Second, we describe how the process of producing these visualizations created an interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration, which also connected different epistemic and geographic communities involved in peace processes. We term this ‘visualization-as-scoping’. Third, we reflect on both ‘what we saw’, through the process of visualization, how it affected policy, and the lessons we learned regarding visualization in the peacebuilding field. In the article, we argue that our experience of ‘visualization-as-scoping’ inverts traditional assumptions about the connection of data visualization to policy influence. In place of the notion of visualization-as-communication, focused on transmitting clear policy ‘messages’, we point to visualization-as-scoping as a practice of interchange, critique and re-iteration. Using John Berger as inspiration, we suggest that the ‘ways of seeing’ that result can usefully disrupt the idea of a data producing singular policy prescriptions, and rather enable people to grapple better with the complex political processes they are involved in.

Part of the Convergence Special Issue on Data Visualisation and Policy, Volume 28 Issue 1, February 2022, guest edited by Kathryn Nash, Verity Trott and William Allen.