As an intern in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for International Development, I worked alongside another intern on several projects. On each project, we followed a process of:
- finding interesting raw data and topics that research fellows in the Center had gathered
- investigating hypotheses using data analysis tools and methodology
- communicating the results using data visualization and storytelling, complete with an approachable narrative.
Economic Complexity Explanation
One of the most notable research conclusions of the Center’s director, Ricardo Hausmann, focused on measured tacit-knowledge (capabilities and know how) and its utility as a method for understanding and predicting a country’s economic development.
However, the fascinating research is currently only communicated in a series of lectures containing hundreds of sparse slides, or directly by the information and quantitatively dense paper.
We worked to take this theory, winnow it down to an explainable story, and then utilize visual storytelling and analogy to explain the research in a more intuitive way to a wider audience.
Our secondary objective was to help show that interactive storytelling could be applied to this domain of research, and to help pave the way for future similar projects.
Country to Country Trade
For one of our data-exploration pursuits, we looked at in-house proprietary data on country-to-country trade and visualized it in a graph using D3. By assigning different magnitudes to edges based on the frequency of trade between the countries, size in dollars of the trade (export and import), co-reliance, and other weighted factors, we were able to see the effects of international trade agreements.
This project was particularly motivated by the contemporary Brexit vote and our curiosity about the European Union as a trade-oriented international union. While our findings regarding Brexit were largely inconclusive, visualizing the data in this manner gained us and the research fellows insight into the shapes of the intricate trade networks that were otherwise opaque.
Because of my experience with graphic design, I helped to create figures for a research paper written by fellows in the Center.
China’s Export Quality
The first project I worked on alongside the other intern was an exploration of proprietary product quality data and it’s relationship to other development indicators. We were particularly interested in China.
While the dominance and growth of China’s exports are widely discussed and expected, there is also a belief that China’s exports are composed of cheaper, mass-produced products. We wanted to know: “Does the data on product quality support this conclusion or does it show instead that China has begun to export higher quality goods?”
After exploring the data using numerous tools and weightings, we found that, while China’s products have grown in quality, this growth was in-kind with the global export market, and therefore did not alter China’s quality rank to a significant degree.