Introducing the Growth Lab's Viz Hub

The Viz Hub is a portfolio of visualization tools, interactive stories, and supporting software packages, powered by the Growth Lab's research on economic complexity, growth diagnostics, structural transformation, diversification, and more.

All projects found on the Viz Hub are built in-house by the Growth Lab's Digital Development & Design Team, an interdisciplinary group that connects economic and policy research with best practices from information design, software development, data science, product management, and digital humanities.

The Growth Lab held a live launch event on Tuesday, September 15th featuring Growth Lab Director Ricardo Hausmann, Senior Software Product Manager Annie White, and Senior Manager of Applied Research Tim O’Brien. This team showcased the many projects included on the Viz Hub, provide a live demonstration of the Hub, and explained its significance to the Growth Lab’s Applied Research initiatives in countries throughout the world.

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Ricardo Hausmann: Well, good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening, wherever you are connecting to us, it's a--it's a pleasure and an honor to be here presenting to you the the Viz Hub. Let me tell you a little bit about--about the Growth Lab. The Growth Lab is a group we created around the year 2006. And--and we do essentially three things. The first thing we do is we do academic research, you know the kind of thing that we write for journals, for academic journals, you know peer reviewed, and all that stuff, and many ideas have come out of there, including the ideas of economic complexity, the product space, growth diagnostics, etc. The second thing we do is we like to partner with countries to figure out about their development strategies. We deploy our theoretical ideas and so on in these applied work, but we also get a lot of our insights into what to research for our academic effort from those engagements. And we've engaged over the course of-of these 14 years with about three dozen countries and regions and cities, because we work both at the national level, at the regional level, and att the urban level. And, in those engagements, we typically also develop tools and mechanisms to-to help countries tackle the issues that-that we're thinking about. It's been a tradition at the Growth Lab that whenever we do research, we try to see if we can convert that research into some kind of useful tool. So, for example, the research on the product space and economic complexity led to the creation of this Atlas of Economic Complexity. But, And the Atlas of Economic Complexity, many of you would probably know it, it's constantly improving tool, and it's probably the reason why-why many people know us because it has received well over a million individual users over the years. But--but that's, that's not the only thing we do, actually we try every time we do something to come up with some tool that might make our research more useful. And in the development of those tool, we decided, well, where do we host them? Well, we are now going to host them in the Viz Hub. Annie White is the director of our digital development and design team. And she is the one that transforms the ideas we have on our academic front and our applied front into actual digital tools. And so it is my honor and my pleasure to present to you Annie White, who is going to tell us about the marvels that she has helped create. Annie.

Annie White: Great. Thank you so much, Ricardo. And hello to everybody today. Thank you so much for joining us. As Ricardo said, my name is Annie. I'm the senior product manager at the Growth Lab. I oversee our digital development and design team on which there are four members, so we have front end development, back end development, and design. And actually, for a little bit of background, what I'm going to do is start off by telling you a little bit about our Aatlas of Economic Complexity, which Ricardo had mentioned. So the Atlas, which you should be seeing on your screen now, is our research and data visualization tool that allows people to analyze the economic dynamics of every country in the world and the growth opportunities that exist for these countries. And there's actually three main entry points into the Atlas, and I'm going to quickly show you each one of them. 

Annie White: So the first is this explore section. And here, one of the easiest ways to engage with the Exploree section is to start by choosing your country. So today I'll go to the drop--country drop down menu, and I will choose Indonesia. And right off the bat, you can start to see the breakdown of Indonesia's exports all throughout this treemap. So each colored segment refers to a sector. I can also see Indonesia's imports as well. And I'm looking at 2018 on the timeline. But you can even explore these trade flows over time to start to get a sense of the dynamics of a country's economy, so not just what's happening in a given year, but what's happening over the decades. One of the newest visualizations that we added to the Atlas is this global share visualization. And here, you can see that the share of the world market for Indonesia's exports for each one of these 10 sectors, so you can see here that in recent years, agriculture, the yellow line, really leads the way. 

Annie White: Ricardo mentioned the product space as being core to our research agenda. So what we try to do here in the Atlas is we take these exports that we saw on the tree map and we actually put them into a product space where we visualize the relatedness to each other. So here, we're seeing Indonesia in a product space. And this relatedness refers to the-- the products that require similar know how to produce. So for Indonesia, you're seeing a lot of green circles lit up over here on the right hand side. That's the textile sector. And you can see that they're closely connected because the textiles--the textiles industry shares a lot of the same knowhow. And by visualizing this, what we can actually start to do is help to define paths to diversify a country's economy based on the connectedness of its knowhow. Finally, in the feasibility opportunities graph, we do something a little bit differently here. So what we're showing here is not the products that a country currently exports, but what it could export, what represents an opportunity for diversification in the future. And just like the past visualizations, each little circle here represents a different product. So this is an extremely fast overview of the explore section. But hopefully what you can see is it kind of has this choose-your-own-adventure feel to it. It covers every country in the world and over 6000 different products and services across multiple decades as well. 

Annie White: But we know that it can actually be useful to understand a country's economy within a more structured framework. And so last year, we launched our country profiles, and country profiles are more of an interactive story of a particular country from our perspective. So here you see Columbia. And this is sort of the beginning introduction page of this country, and this country profile takes a much more narrative approach to a country's growth story across four main sections: its economic structure, its market dynamics, its strategy space, and its growth opportunities. So as you start exploring a country profile, you'll see that just like the explore section, it's very visual. And it takes you through much more of a beginning, middle, end of a country story. And all along the way, as you see the visuals, we've embedded all kinds of little teachable tools throughout that follow you along for guidance. The last section I'll show you really quickly is our country rankings. So each year at the Growth Lab, we release our economic complexity index rankings. And this is where we assess the current state of a country's productive knowledge and rank these countries accordingly. So this year, earlier in the winter, we overhauled this page and introduced brand new visualizations to help understand this ranking a little bit more clearly. So I can come here and kind of this rainbow visualization and see as I hover over, the change in a country's economic complexity index over time. And I can come in here and actually choose a country that I'm interested in and it'll highlight for me. So that's a particularly amazing change to see for Vietnam. And it really comes through in the visualization. I can come down here and use our ranking comparison tool. So this is where we take the ECI ranking of a country, we plot it over time, but we can also choose different countries that we're interested in comparing against each other and select the timelines as well. And then finally, we take all of this information. a country's rank, it's ECI, and the change in that ECI was over five or 10 years, and we plot it all in a table that you can sort. OK, so that--those are sort of the three main entry points into the Atlas and over the past few years we've worked a lot on the Atlas. But as Ricardo said, we've actually built a lot of other tools, many of them becoming more refined and even more focused on a particular topic or country. So we wanted to make sure that this summer when we were building the Viz Hub, the main objective was to start bringing all of those tools together in one place. But actually, even more than that, we wanted to start linking them across various dimensions so that they're discoverable according to whatever might interest you. 

Annie White: So I'm going to show you exactly what I mean by that. When you get to Viz Hub, it's at "" This is, of course, the landing page you'll get to. And just by simply scrolling down, you're presented with this classic grid layout. And this, by one simple scroll, you'll see just about every single visualization tool that the Growth Lab has created. We keep all of our updated and new tools at the very top. So, of course, the Atlas is here, our country dashboards, and our country profiles. As you can see here, when you mouse over each one of these project cards, you get to the tool with a little bit more information. And of course, you can click through and get to the tool itself. So everything here takes you right out to the tool so that you can use it. One of the coolest features we wanted to build in the this hub is this augmented search, and you can find it here over on the left hand side. And this is where we decided to organize our tools across various themes. So categories, different keywords, the data sources that they're using, and even the status of the project is in. And so you might come to their base and say, hey, it really is these Atlas tools at the Growth Lab that I'm most interested in. And so you can click on Atlas projects and what you get below are the filtered results of Atlas tools. So of course, here's the Atlas of Economic Complexity, uur country profiles, our rankings, and actually what's also here is one of our subnational atlases. So you can click through to here. And what you will find is our Atlas of Economic Complexity for the country of Columbia. So I showed you in the Atlas how the Atlas actually covers two hundred and fifty different countries at the national level. But we've also leveraged national and municipal data to build subnational atlases. So this is where we take a really deep dive and examine the economic activity of one particular country all the way down to the municipal level. And so that, of course, is an Atlas project. And you can find it on the Viz Hub. What we know and what we have found to be more and more common across our reach--research is that people often engage with our research with one particular country in mind. And so when we were organizing all of our projects, we made sure that if we have a project specific tool, it got its own keyword. In our work,Albania has some of our newest Viz Hub projects. And so you can, of course, come down to keywords you could click on Albania. And below are some of our projects that we've been working on for the country of Albania, and they take different formats. So I'm going to pass it over to my colleague, Tim O'Brien. And he's actually going to show you some of the newest tools in the Viz Hub. 

Tim O'Brien: Thanks a lot, Annie. So I'm happy to be here to share some of the types of projects that you'll find in the Viz Hub using Albania as an example. As Annie stated, Albania is one of our oldest country projects, about seven years old. So it's given us an opportunity to innovate the way that we share some of our research findings. So as Annie showed, if you come to search for Albania and you scroll down, you'll see some of the tools on the Viz Hub that are general across countries. And then you'll see some that are particular to Albania. For instance, here is Albania's industry targeting dashboard. I'll come back to that one. And down here is what we call a visual story. How to accelerate economic growth in Albania. So let me take you through this one first. This visual story is kind of a new thing that we're trying, and we'll hopefully do it with more country projects in the future. It's an attempt to distill a lot of research that we do in the country along growth diagnostics, economic complexity, other areas, into a kind of output that's easier to digest than our normal 50-100 page reports and presentations. That is something that can connect with, we hope, policymakers as well as the public, in this case inside Albania and outside of Albania. So let me just scroll through a little bit and show you what these types of online stories will contain. So as I scroll down, you'll see that some of the graphs kind of reveal themselves. As you scroll, this was a really cool thing that we were able to do by working together with Annie's digital development and design team to really make these graphs show as much information as possible. So they're also interactive and that you can hover over data points and see in more detail what you would see in a typical static graph. As you scroll, you'll learn about Albania's growth history, current challenges, in visualizations that I hope really tell a compelling story, again where you can hover and reveal things that you wouldn't be able to reveal if this was a static report. So these visual stories have given us an opportunity to really be more creative in the way that we share information through both what's written and what's in the graphs. So I hope you get a chance to-to read through. There are a few visualizations that gives us an opportunity to really think outside the box. This is one in particular that I particularly like that uses FDI markets data to compare sectors in which Albania is receiving foreign direct investment. The scale of that foreign direct investment versus several other somewhat similar countries. And this graph, if you read the article, actually, contains a lot of what we think is an important strategy for Albania moving forward in the context of COVID-19 and after COVID-19 to accelerate its economic transformation. I'll just continue to scroll through so you can see some of the features that you'll find in the tool, or in the stories, sorry. Again, the ability to highlight individual data points and really see a lot from these graphs. 

Tim O'Brien: At the end of this story, I'll actually click over to one of the other tools that you'll find on the Viz Hub. And we call this the Albania industry targeting dashboard. And for reasons that we discussed in that story, we think that Albania has an opportunity to be much more targeted, strategic, proactive in the way it attracts investment to the country, to take advantage of its comparative advantages and attract companies that will drive its economy forward. So this was an undertaking that we did together again with the design and development team, as our Albania country team, also leveraging tools that Growth Lab has put together for other country projects as well. And the way that this is set up is somewhat like the Atlas in that it's organized around parts of the economy. But in this case, it's organized around industries, which has the important benefit that we can look in detail at services. So, for instance, I can go here and look at motion picture, video, and television program activities. And this particular tool assesses this industry in Albania along two dimensions: viability, in other words, how likely is it for this industry to thrive in Albania, and attractiveness, which looks at how attractive this industry would be if it was to expand in Albania and the rest of the tool, it breaks down how these measurements are made. This particular industry is in a good location for proactive investment promotion because it's both viable and attractive. Something over here, for instance, like manufacture of motor vehicles, and I can click that and it will update the tool, is attractive for some reasons, but not highly viable. And I can also search in this tool if I have something in mind. For instance, plastic. You can click on manufacture of plastic products. So let me show you a little bit more about what this tool contains. Plastic products appears as highly strategic and highly attractive. And as you scroll down, it kind of reveals why. Five viability factors. Two of them are typical complexity indicators that you'll see a lot in our Atlas of Economic Complexity but kind of recreated to apply to industries. And there's another dimension of high FDI to peer countries suggesting that other countries that are similar to Albania are attracting this investment. So maybe it will work in Albania, too. And then there are two variables here that connect with our growth diagnostic in Albania. Industries that use a lot of electricity we think are strategic in Albania because it has low electricity costs that will get lower over time, and industries that don't require a lot of contracting and use of the courts to resolve contracts are a good bet for Albania right now because it's going through a judicial reform. So for any industry that you pick, it'll show you the scores for each of these; all of these graphs can be downloaded. Same principle for attractiveness in this case, it uses high wages, high youth employment, high global FDI flows, and high export propensity. All these things are things that are strategic for Albania, and they all come from different data sets that we've kind of combined on the back end together with Annie's team. This tool also has the ability for a user to explore at the company level who you might target as a potential investor in Albania. So the tool is really meant for the use of the Albanian government or other non-government actors that are trying to support investment promotion in Albania. But it's open to everyone, of course, on the Viz Hub. So the the the tool will show you the flow of investment in this industry over time. It will allow you to see who the biggest players are in different areas, including in the Balkans here. And for users who have a subscription to FDI markets, we've actually set this up so that it's password protected. And if you have that access that you can access more information about where those companies actually have their headquarters. And this is important to Albania because Albania has a network of in economic diplomacy through embassies and ambassadors abroad where they could use this tool to say in Belgium. What are the companies that manufacture plastics that are headquartered there, even to the level of what's in Brussels? And finally, the tool uses Albanian labor force survey data to look at the industry's current status in the country, for instance, where jobs are currently located, the education distribution of jobs, occupation distribution. Wages and how they compare to country wages overall. And then finally, it allows you to see what are what other industries are nearby in the complexity sense, for instance, manufacturing of paints, varnishes and similar. And then you might come up to the top and explore one of those related industries. In this case, it's highly attractive but on the border between viable and less viable. And of course, it'll show you why. So we really enjoy building tools like this that take our diagnostic finding and actually empower the government in an important way to take steps to resolve a constraint that we think is is constraining faster, more inclusive or more sustainable growth. And you'll see other instances like this on the Viz Hub and hopefully they're easy to find now. And we're really excited to hear everybody's feedback. So let me welcome Ricardo back for some more comments before we go to questions. 

Ricardo Hausmann: Well, I think those were two excellent presentations, sir. Thanks, Annie and Tim. And, you know, I think I'm eager to hear the questions and the comments from from the audience. Thank you. Thank you very much. 

Chuck McKenney: While we take some more questions, I want to ask Annie if she could maybe elaborate a bit on the process behind putting, putting one of these tools together. Maybe something like the country profiles. You want to share some of that? 

Annie White: Yeah. Our process, if there's a word to describe our process, it's extremely collaborative. So it always starts with a research and discovery phase. And one of the advantages of having in-house software development at the Growth Lab is that we can be really, really close to the research agenda from the beginning. So we try to take advantage of that position and learn as much as we can about the research agenda that will inform a tool who it will be for. And then, of course, whether we have the technology and what technology we will use to build it. So that's that can be a multi-month process. Sometimes it's just a week, but that always leads the way. And then typically happening in tandem is we begin a data exploration process. So this is where we're wrangling with which data sets will we use? Do they need to be cleaned? How will we render them for a data visualization tool? At the same time, with that combination of data and research, we often go through a process of designing a wireframe. So for those of you who don't know, a wireframe is like a sketch of what you intend to build before you even commit a line of code. And it's really a way to start getting all the ideas onto paper in a really refined way. And so we begin that design process. We, we combine that with data exploration. We set up a data, usually databases and ingestion pipelines. And only once all of that is sort of locked and loaded do we begin the coding process. And through every such step of the way, research and development, wireframing and design, data development, software and front end development, we do a lot of engagement with stakeholders and users. So we show our work as often as possible to get feedback, to check our assumptions and to get even better ideas than what we're proposing. And so we work with our researchers at the Growth Lab. We work with policymakers to test our work. And then, of course, we end with a wonderful launch event just like this. 

Chuck McKenney: Thanks, Annie. Ricardo, we have a question from Mossa wondering if there have been any assessments of how successfully some of our growth strategies have been implemented. 

Ricardo Hausmann: That is always a complicated assessment, because, you know, when things turn out well, it's hard to take credit because you don't know the counterfactual of what would have happened had we not been there. But...And we're extremely proud of the turnaround in the economic situation of Albania post-2013, where I think we really entered into a crisis situation and really nicely turned, you know, participated in the turnaround. I think that in other countries, you can see our impact, by the way the change in government strategy and the change in-in the international perception of that government's strategies. So I think we are very proud of our current engagement in Jordan. In other countries, you know, we got engaged for significant chunk of time. And, and the government politically went in a different direction. And years later, they are sort of like back. And our ideas have been, in some sense, influential in the way people are conceiving the future. 

Ricardo Hausmann: I saw in the chat one, one question about Cape Verde. And I wanted to to answer that question by, if you allow me to share my screen. Thank you. So I hope you're seeing my, my screen here. This is Cape Verde. So Cape Verde is in the Atlas. I chose Cape Verde by just writing Cabo Verde or CPV. And it tells me that its exports are mostly services. And if if I do it at the six-digit level or maybe at the four-digit level so it's not  taking me that long. It's mostly travel and tourism and some transportation and so on. And there are some prepared fish and other stuff here. If I want to know what have been the dynamics, it tells me that this tourism sector had been growing a lot until 2018. So I'm going to guess that probably it's going to be highly impacted by, by COVID-19 because of the essential stop it has generated in an international travel. I can look at the imports and it tells me that you know probably something must have happened because imports peaked around 2011. And so this decline in imports is probably worrisome. It's not as dynamic as the economy was until 2008. I can ask about partners. Let me go back here, say, who do you trade with. So apparently, you know, the colonial links are still there. Thirty eight percent of your trade on the import side is is with Portugal. On the export side, it's with Spain and Portugal, too. I can ask the question of who do you export fish to? And it says that most of your fish are going to Spain. Okay? So, so. Well, I can look at you in the in the product space, see--see where you are on the product space. And I see that there are very few things in the product space. I have, you know, prepared fish there, frozen fish, and spirits and you know, artificial filaments. And so you see, you see a little bit of, you know, what-what the productive structure is over there. So store actually Cape Verde and 250-so other countries are in the Atlas. And it's, it's available for for you to explore at any time. 

Ricardo Hausmann: I think Mossa also had a question about the post-conflict states. Well, Mossa, I believe, comes from Afghanistan. And we're trying to, we are in the process of negotiating a project in Afghanistan, that--that's going to be one post-conflict state. We also had a previous engagement in Liberia, and I don't know what to call our project in Venezuela. But the Venezuela is worse than a conflict states. It's a, it's a failed state. It has, though the worst economic catastrophe, probably the third largest economic catastrophe in the world since 1960. Only, only in terms of declines in GDP per capita peak to trough, it's a bigger than everything except for Liberia and Tajikistan. So, just to give you a little bit on on our previous experiences with complicated places. 

Chuck McKenney: We have a couple of questions on data. How do we acquire it, especially in developing countries? Maybe we can talk about that process and... and quality control? What we do for quality control?

Ricardo Hausmann: Well, so there are different data sets in different tools. The Atlas is powered by the U.N. data on trade. It's called the Comtrade Data Set. But we developed a mechanism to-to clean the data, which was done by Sebastian Bustos and Muhammed Yildirim. So we call it the Bustos-Yildirim method. And it's based on the idea that every transaction gets reported twice, once by the importing country and once by the exporting country. And they developed an algorithm that decides who's more trustworthy of the two, of the two reporters. And we use that to clean the data and so on. So. But every every data set has different, like cleaning challenges. When we work with these National Atlases, we usually use some dataset that the government provides. In the case of Colombia, they provided  like an employee of--an administrative employee dataset so that we know how many people are employed in each industry and where and how much they earn. And in the Albania project we we used our labor force survey. We also buy the Dun and Bradstreet data set of firms. And we buy the FDI markets data set from the Financial Times. And in one of our recent projects that was recently published in Nature Human Behavior, a paper by Michele Coscia and Franke Neffke, Frank Neffke is our director of academic research, and myself, we published a paper, Nature Human Behavior this past August, last month, and it was on business travel. And that was data that was provided to us by MasterCard and so. So, they gave us data on on the use of business cards in international travel. And it allowed us to do a research to show that business travel does drive future increases in productivity and in exports in the products that the country of origin is good at. So, you know, if you get a lot of Italians, you get better at pizza. So. So that's that's another example of another data set. But I'm sure that maybe the Annie or Tim know about other data sets that I didn't mention. 

Tim O'Brien: No there is just a wide range, especially for individual country projects like Albania. And that dashboard. It pulls from lots of country specific data, set surveys, administrative data. We also like to use all the creative sources of information we can gather. So now things like mobility trends to study the impacts of coronavirus. And we're kind of were data nerds. So if we can get our hands on it, we'll try to learn from it. 

Chuck McKenney: We have a question from Will. How have private sector companies worked with governments to act on this information? And how do you think it will evolve moving forward? Ricardo? 

Ricardo Hausmann: I mean it. I don't know if Annie knows the analytics of, of the Atlas. You know, now we're in over a million individual users, so I can imagine that people can use this for many, many reasons. We see graphs that are powered by our Atlas in many, many documents by many entities. So I don't know exactly how the private sector might be using it. But we know a little bit about how how the government has been using it, because, see, in the context of Albania, we trained the ambassadors in economic diplomacy and we trained the investment promotion agency to work with the ambassadors in the process of attracting investment. So they get the list of which companies to target from-from this tool and they track them with a separate tool to know, you, did you talk to them? Did they answer the phone? Did they come back? Did they visit the country, etc, etc.? So so,we know that it is being used as, as an active tool in the process of of investment promotion. Annie, can you shed some light on what do we know about our users? 

Annie White: Yeah, you're exactly right. So Ricardo is right to say, we surppased the one million user mark on the Atlas, which is really exciting. We did that last year. In terms of who our users are, I actually think there's a question here from Juan Pablo who asks, what's the profile of people and institutions that consult the hub? Well, it's probably a bit too early to know that we just put out the hub last week live. So we're excited to see who starts coming to the site itself. But if we're talking about the Atlas, our core group of users are policymakers, academics, more and more journalists. So I think what journalists really like are data visualizations that do a lot of the explaining for them. And so we see our data visualizations used in mainstream media outlets like the Financial Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, all the time. We see our work from the Atlas used by the World Bank, the IMF, the IDB as well, oftentimes generating larger analytical reports. On your question about the private sector. Actually, just this morning, the rankings tool that I showed you on the Atlas was used in a news piece on economic growth in Australia, urging entrepreneurs in Australia to use the Atlas to identify new opportunities for investment and-and new areas for growth. So I think when we talk about the private sector, it's exactly what Ricardo said. It's people trying to identify what's next for my country. 

Chuck McKenney: We have one final question. So if anybody has any others, now would be the time to ask them, it's just related to how can we use data for analyzing crises, say the post COVID-19 phase of performances? Is there any way to see the impact forecast, et cetera? 

Well. We are. I mean, the Growth Lab created a task force to help the countries think through their strategy, vis-a-vis COVID, especially their economic policy strategy. And so we've gained a lot of experience in how to analyze some of the issues. But I think it's been too soon to develop a tool for it So we're deeply engaged in COVID strategizing. But I don't think we have a tool for public use yet. 

Chuck McKenney: I want to thank all of our speakers. I want to thank all of the attendees and just "" is the is the URL for the Viz Hub. You'll find all of our latest research, news, profiles on faculty, fellows, on "" And we're very active on social media, especially Twitter. This is, this is our handle, "@HarvardGrwthLab," without the "O." Thank you. 

Ricardo Hausmann: Thank you all. 

Annie White: Thanks, everyone.