Each year, hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers across the globe are refused refugee status. These individuals are often fleeing devastating humanitarian circumstances not considered as legal refugee criteria. Through an interactive light installation, I explore the relationship between failing states and rejection rates of asylum seekers originating from these countries, illuminating the masses of suffering peoples never classified as refugees.
The Fragile State Index of a country describes the overall health of a nation from a scale of very sustainable to very high alert. The higher the score, the poorer a nation's health. The FSI score of each country is represented by a color scale ranging from purple (very sustainable) to deep red (very high alert).
Each Fragile State Index score is comprised of 12 indicators spanning social, economic, political, and military factors. Each factor can reach up to a max of 10 points, representing the highest level of alert. By adding these indicators together, a country can have a max FSI score of 120. Users can click on individual indicators to receive a summary of the country's conditions surrounding that indicator.
Full bar graph represents the total number of asylum seekers. This bar graph can then be divided into the decisions made on those cases - rejected, accepted, awaiting a decision, and otherwise decided (which typically indiciates that the individual has died or disappeared).
While the data is startling on paper, it is even more compelling and poignant when you must confront it in a physical space. For this reason, I chose to display the data as an installation piece. I wanted the viewer to feel physically overwhelmed and awed by the sheer number of lights, which represent the individuals seeking asylum in each country.
Rather than simply display raw data statistics about the populations of refugees, I wanted to give this impersonal data more of a context. I hoped to give meaning to these numbers by highlighting not only the statistics themselves, but the conditions that are causing the high numbers of asylum seekers from specific regions. I was able to find data on both global refugee population statistics and more contextual data providing a score for the health of nations in political, economic, and social areas. By linking these two and also providing summaries of the conditions, I hoped to provide a more personal and emotion connection in a way that still felt objective.
Each year, the Fund for Peace analyzes a multitude of international articles, quantitative data, and qualitative expertise to produce a Fragile State Index for every country. This score represents the overall health and stability of a nation is derived from a dozen social, economic, and political indicators.
With data related to global issues, it is really easy to default to a world map as the way of visualizing the data. I explored other possible solutions, but ultimately felt that the world map really was the clearest way of showing the data. However, I still wanted to find a way to reimagine the traditional 2D map graphic. I decided to take the idea of the map being the base of the information literally, rotating the data 90 degrees into 3D space and allowing the lighted bar graphs to emanate upwards from the map.
Using depth and light, I wanted to put the viewer in a physical space with the data. I hoped that by existing within this extraordinary amount of lights, the viewer could more palpably feel the weight of the masses of asylum-seekers and refugees. I aimed to reflect the glow and contrast of the installation in the UI of the accompanying controller screens. Since color was very specifically representing data, it was important that these rules were carried throughout and that visual design would allow the viewer could clearly link the data between displays.
It was challenging to organize the large amounts of data in a way that gave viewers the full story without overwhelming them with information. I worked to display the relationship between the data sets, showing the viewer how failing states and rejected asylum seekers are interconnected and not siloed instances of data. I also spent a lot time trying to determine how the data would be split between the installation and the screen. Both displays needed to have a reason for existing together, yet users needed to be able to take away something from the exbihit even if they were only able to interact with one of the displays.