Tough Choices: The Reality of Refugee Policy

By: Jyotishka Biswas, Kalki Seksaria, Mike Drachkovitch, and Felipe Lozano-Landinez

The data says that there are thousands of refugees entering the European Union every week. The current massive migration of refugees to the EU presents both a moral and resource-constraint issue to the countries receiving the influx. Decisions about how to balance the inherent trade-off are made by political leaders in all of these countries in a real-time, imperfect information environment. We want to tell this story to unpack the static-ness of the numbers and show the human decisions that underly a country’s response to try and best manage this challenge. The country that we decided to go with for this game prototype is Austria.

Our audience for this project is one placed within an educational setting, with the idea being that the participatory data game serves as a simulation of the types of decisions that a political leader would have to make during this crisis and will help students (who are immediately affected in some way by the EU refugee criss and would find themselves in similar tough situations in their future careers) better understand the complexities of the issue at hand for a government decision-maker. As an example group of this abstract decision, we have chosen University of Vienna Political Science Masters Students.

For this project, we imagined that we were the International Organization for Migration, and intergovernmental body focused on addressing migration issues throughout the world. With that lens, our goals for this project were to 1) Help students better understand the underlying complexities of the EU refugee crisis challenge in a more visceral, interactive manner.

Then, if our goal was to be successful, we had two calls to action for the students: 1) Push them towards advocating for better data collection capabilities by the European Union AND/OR 2)Encourage them to help the efforts of the IOM by working with the organization (internships, full-time, etc.).

Our data source for this game was the Refugee Arrivals along the Balkan Route data set from the UNHRC (link here). It presents information on number of refugees arriving every day to multiple countries from October 1st, 2015 through today.

The biggest aspect of the data, our data story, that we wanted to highlight was the inherent uncertainty and incredible difficulty inferencing anything about the future with past data (ex. What will be the number of refugees coming in next week based on what we know now?), and how that results in an incredibly complex decision-making challenge for a political leader.

Our choice of country meant that we segmented the information just for Austria. We focused on using the data from the first seven weeks (so from the first week of October 2015 through the third week of November 2015), and calculated a confidence interval of 95% for the # of incoming refugees for each of the weeks. This was meant to represent the data set that a political leader would be looking at when making a decision about how many refugees to plan for in the future (mean and uncertainty in the numbers over the last week). In the game, we then have a leader make a decision based off of that range (we constrained the decision set to five possible choices), and then matched the leader’s choice to the real # of refugees that came in the next week, which we know from the data set.

The setup of the game was that a decision’s consequences were determined by the difference between a leader’s decision (# of refugees to prepare for for next week) and the actual number of refugees that came in. The consequences manifest in the approval rating of the political leader, which is meant to show the political reality of making decisions that, while morally good, take away resources from your country/constituency. The player has two main objectives for the game: To help as many refugees as possible while also managing their approval rating.

We think this is an appropriate and effective way to tell the data story because it is reflective of a process that has a high amount of uncertainty inherently and that has to deal with the political realities of situations, no matter how well intended the decisions were. Essentially, the result is not fully in your control, and you just have to do your best. This creates both empathy with the political leader’s role and shows the complexity of an issue like the refugee crisis in a way that can only be really seen when being part of the decision-making process. In addition, the game has the intention on focusing on human lives and not equating them to capital explicitly, which humanizes the numbers and respects the lives of the people that the numbers represent.

At the end of the day, players come out with a better understanding of the issue and a more human view of numbers that they may have heard on the news and/or seen on TV due to their immersion into the decision-making process.

You can see our presentation and simulation at this link.

Donate by Playing – A Fundraising Board Game for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Group Members: Argyro Nicolaou, Reem Alfaiz, Phillip Graham, Gary Burnett

The data say that there are many people immigrating to Europe. In 2015 alone, more than 1 million people arrived to Europe by sea. The numbers are increasing every year. In the first 3 months of 2016 the number of sea arrivals was 6 times greater, than the same time in the previous year. This influx of refugees will put a lot of stress on relief organizations, as they will now be even more limited in the number of resources they have available.

The goal of our project is to increase funding for these organizations via a game. Our audience are donors attending a fundraising event for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. These people are at the benefit because they want to donate and have some level of investment in the cause. Our goal is to encourage the attendees to donate by eliciting an emotional response via game play. Our game puts them in the position of refugees and shows them how the money they donate to IRFC will directly impact the lives of people trying to immigrate to Germany.

We want to tell this story to highlight the impact that relief aid can have on the life of a refugee. The journey to asylum can be painful and exhausting. Often times it leads to separation from one’s family, and sometimes it can even lead to death. We want to show that this is not how it has to be. There are organizations out there that provide relief and make the lives of refugees more bearable, and donating to organizations such as IRFC can have a direct impact on the lives of real people.  

One of the most powerful data sources we used for our project were personal stories found online, that were documented by real life refugees. This helped a lot in the creation of our characters and what sorts of events can occur during an immigration across Europe. These personal stories both contribute to the accuracy of the journey and also help the players sympathize with situation and feel an emotional connection to the player.

Another useful data source was the UNHCR database of the popularity of various routes across Europe. These helped with the design of the gameboard. There are many paths the players could traverse, however we only decided to include those that were actually feasible. To achieve this we removed routes that included borders that were closed. We also chose to only include paths that many people have travelled across according to the dataset, as opposed to less popular options.

The rules of the game are simple. You are a refugee from Syria trying to get to Germany. Along the way you encounter various obstacles but also different kinds of help. Each player will be assigned a character. The characters are: Malika – a 26-year-old nurse from Aleppo, Adnan – a 10-year old boy from Latakia, Youssef – a 30-year-old man from Homs and the Alsouki family – a family of 4 from Damascus

All players start with 10 stamina points. You draw a card at every location, starting from the common starting point that is Syria. The card has 2 kinds of information on it: it tells you where to go next, and it also tells you how each transition affects your stamina points.  Some cards give the player the option to purchase stamina points. These real-life donations all go towards the IFRC fundraising effort to help the national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in Europe to deal with the unprecedented number of refugees and migrants arriving from the Middle East and Africa.

We want the players to empathize with the obstacles and the hardship that migration involves.

We want people to encounter obstacles in the game that will motivate them to donate small amounts of money that can make a big difference.

We did not want to create a competitive game – buying stamina points benefits everyone on the table, so to speak.

Below are Dropbox links to the pdfs of cards we used for the game:
First Half of Cards
Second Half of Cards

Also, the PDF of Game Board

Playing Game Example Donate By Playing Game Board

How Much Do You Actually Know About Commuting In Boston?

By: Catherine Caruso, Judy Chang, Kendra Pierre-Louis, Tiffany Wang

For this assignment we created a Buzzfeed quiz. You can take the quiz here.

The data say that since Hubway’s inception in 2011, ridership has increased. In fact, earlier this month Hubway had its 4-millionth ride. However most of its riders were born between 1981-1986. People in their early to mid-thirties make up 38-percent of Hubway riders. Yet those born after 1991, currently only make up four percent of Hubway ridership. Getting young people to start riding Hubway is important for the system’s longevity because once people habits become entrenched it is difficult to get them to switch. This is why marketers target people during life transitions – marriage, pregnancy,  etc – because it’s easier to get them to try something new while they’re already in transition. Similarly, we wanted to target young people as they made the transition from students to adults.

We wanted to tell this story because Hubway provides a vital service that complements mass transit systems, while reducing the carbon emissions associated with driving and improving the health and wellbeing of riders. In addition, Hubway doesn’t just benefit Hubway – it makes the streets safer for cycling generally and by proxy for pedestrians. Writes Emily Badger in a 2014 Washington Post article about the rollout of New York City’s bike sharing program, Citibike.

As more people bike and walk, cycling and pedestrian fatalities actually decline. That’s because the more people bike and walk, the more drivers become attuned to their presence (either on sidewalks or road shoulders), and the more cities are likely to invest in the kind of infrastructure explicitly meant to protect them (all of which further encourages more cyclists and pedestrians).

Our audience is 22-30 year old young professionals who live in the Boston area and need to commute to work. Our goal is to get more car and subway commuters using Hubway. Because it’s notoriously difficult to get riders to change habits, rather than an aggressive hard sell we thought we could get younger people to try Hubway through the game approach of a Buzzfeed quiz. We choose Buzzfeed specifically because according to its ad sheet:

  • It has 200+ Million monthly uniques visitors 50% are 18-34 years old
  • BuzzFeed’s in-house experts help the right audience discover a brand’s content across BuzzFeed and on social, specifically allowing us to target people within hubspots footprint through IP filtering
  • Brands can track content performance in real-time using BuzzFeed’s social dashboard, allowing us to assess performance, adjust content etc on the fly.

Our goals are to increase ridership among our specified market by 10% over YTD performance. For this experiment which has some limitations – namely that we’re not actually Hubway, that we’re using Buzzfeed’s community sharing profile as opposed to its viral advertising and don’t actually have Buzzfeed support, we’d like to have 500 views/clicks over the week in which we launched the quiz with a 50% completion rate. To date we have a total of 108 views.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 1.48.24 PM

We’ve also received some support from Hubway itself. Last week Kendra tweeted out the link copying both Buzzfeed and Hubway on the link:


Hubway retweeted it,


it  garnered:

Impressions 662
Total engagements 22
Link Clicks 15
Likes 2
Detail expands 2
Profile clicks 2
Retweets 2

To produce this data we used Hubways 2014 bikeshare data. In addition, we used a wide variety of additional data sets for comparison points. For example, to compare the cost of commuting in Boston by Hubway, T, and car, we used the current cost of a full-priced monthly T pass provided by the MBTA. For the car cost data we used 2011 AAA  which put the cost for a medium sedan at 57.3 cents a mile, and calculated out the cost of that car commuting the average 7.6 miles per day for 50 weeks a year (assuming 2 weeks’ vacation). The carbon emissions data was based on. Calorie data was based on a bicycle calculator from and USDA calorie data.

We think this was an appropriate way of approaching the issue – the stereotype of the daily commute is one of a painful slog. We, instead, wanted to portray bicycle riding and Hubway use as the opposite of that – fun, whimsical, AND the smart choice. Testers within the target demographic responded that they laughed, and they learned something.

In addition, we felt like it was the right tone both for the audience we were seeking to target and for the data itself. Hubway data, unlike say the refugee data, isn’t particularly serious or fraught. And, on balance the story of Hubway so far is a positive story. People are embracing the system – we just want more people to embrace that system because doing so will make the system bigger and better as well as more enduring. Years ago, Kendra interviewed a woman working with the National Park system and she said that the fact that fewer young people are going to the parks and staying for less time when they visit is a problem. Without a connection to the park system they’re not going to vote for dollars to maintain it, or for politicians on the basis of how they feel about the national parks. The same is true for Hubway – we need young people adopting the system for its long term longevity. This isn’t to say that we don’t love and want to maintain our older riders – and the quiz does nothing to denigrate that audience.

Explore Hubway

Michelle Thomas, Katie Marlowe, and Jane Coffrin

The data say that people are most frequently using Hubway on weekdays and that some stops are more utilized than others, such as South Station and MIT at Mass Ave.  We want to tell this story because if more people take advantage of what Hubway has to offer, it can lead to enjoyment, health benefits and environmental benefits . Our audience is existing Hubway users and encouraging new users to join (specifically targeting those who are college age). We use the data about their trips to encourage them to take more trips. Our goals are to encourage Hubway Riders to explore Boston and use Hubway on the weekends as well as for their daily commutes.

Our data comes from, and includes every trip taken through 2013. When we looked through the data, we saw that there were many more trips on weekdays than there were on weekends. From that we gathered that there are many people using Hubway for their daily commute to/from work or school, but they aren’t using it as much for other activities such as exploring a new neighborhood. The data also told us that there are many stations that are very heavily used and had 15,000 or more trips ending at them, whereas some stations were used very little and had less than 1,000 trips ending at them. From this we decided on a goal of encouraging Hubway riders to utilize Hubway for more exploration of Boston, which comes from incentivizing them to use Hubway for reasons outside of their daily commute.


We decided to create a concept for a mobile phone application that users would get for free with their purchase of a Hubway membership. The application, Explore Hubway, links to users’ accounts, and tracks the information about their rides. The features of the application include:

Social Networking: The application includes a social networking aspect, allowing users to see what their friends are doing. This serves as a form of extrinsic motivation, incentivizing users to bike more so they can show off to their network.

Earn Badges: Explore Hubway also incentivizes users by earning badges, which each are worth a certain amount of points. This is also a form of extrinsic motivation to get out and bike more.

PrintProfile: Each user has a profile page, where they can view stats about themselves, a form of intrinsic motivation.

Rewards: Users can cash in the points they earn in for real rewards, which for many users, would probably be the biggest piece of motivation. These rewards come from the Hubway Bicycle Benefits program that is already in place. The rewards program also helps the businesses by getting bikers to visit their stores.

Leadership Board: Users can see how they stack up against other Boston riders.

Map: The map feature allows users to easily see where they can find a Hubway station nearby. Users can also search for stations by both station number and station name.

Because the app is linked to the user’s Hubway membership, it would be able to keep track of when you check bikes in and out of stations. This means it will keep track of badges for the user and knows when a new station used. It also means that at the end of the ride the app will send the user a notification on their phone and show up with one of several possibilities such as: the number of people who used the end station in the past month, the number of minutes the trip took, the number of calories burned, how the length of your trip compares to the average trip length. These notifications will serve as immediate feedback and another intrinsic motivation to continue to use Hubway.


Check out the other concept pictures here!

Beat the T! Biking Toward a Healthier Boston

Julia Appel, Iris Fung, Eric Lau

The data says that in Boston, more than 30% of work commuters depend on the T to get to work and that biking is a faster and healthier way to do it. Within city limits, biking often saves time when compared to the T. Furthermore, bike commuting helps Bostonians stay healthy and active, adding up to 50 minutes/day of moderate to vigorous activity with an average round-trip commute. Bikers can burn almost 400 calories per day this way! Still, only 1.9% of Bostonians commute to work by bike. We want to tell this story to encourage more people to reevaluate their commuting options, by creating an intervention in their daily routine encouraging them to bike – for their time and health.

To that end, we propose an interactive data game that is commissioned as a joint venture by the Boston Public Health Commission, Hubway system, and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). A stationary bike that looks like a Hubway bike will be installed onto various T station platforms.When the user begins pedaling, the game begins on the large screen in front of the stationary bike. For the purposes of this prototype, we are assuming that this bike is installed in the Brigham Circle T station and the user has chosen the Museum of Fine Arts, two stations along the E extension of the Green Line.

Our audience is the regular MBTA Green Line commuters who have not yet seriously considered other commuting options and may not even be aware of those available to them. The Green Line, in particular, is notorious for late trains, weather delays, and unexpected breakdowns. Furthermore, the Green Line covers areas that are easily bikeable, especially further away from the city. We envision a commuter standing on the station, with some time to kill as they are waiting for their train to arrive. The explicit invitations from the screen and implicit invitations from the empty bike seat entice the person to hop onto the stationary bike. They would then play the game, which would automatically start as they pedal. As they play, facts about biking, the T, and public health appear on the top-left corner of the screen, engaging not just the participant but also the surrounding audience. The data is drawn from a variety of sources, including the suggested Hubway 2011-2013 dataset; and annual statistics from the MBTA (2014 Ridership and Service Statistics) and National Institutes of Health. At the end, the benefits of biking are strongly emphasized by the fact that players are able to “arrive” at the destination station faster than if they had taken the T!

Our goals are to provide an immersive and informative experience to persuade people to reevaluate their own method of commuting and switch to biking for increased efficiency and fitness if it makes sense. We would like to ease their transition to becoming a Hubway member if they so choose. We have designed a receipt that will be printed out at the end of the game, with a code for a free Hubway ride if the player wins the game (i.e. beats the T). At that point, by choosing to hop onto the bike at the station to try and beat the T, the participant has already engaged in healthful, vigorous physical activity. Furthermore, with the receipt “reward” from the kiosk, they have a gratifying, persistent encouragement to become a Hubway member, speed up their daily commutes, and join the Hubway community in biking towards a healthier lifestyle for themselves and Boston as a whole.

So, can you beat the T?

*Please use Safari to view. 

What is Immigration

By Maddie Kim, Andrew Mikofalvy, and Kenny Friedman

The Set Up

unnamed-2Life as a refugee is often extremely difficult, from having to leave your friends and relatives, to fear of persecution. Many factors that should not matter to the successful application to this country do make a difference on the likelihood of making it to the United States. As we’ve seen in the past, the US has more than enough resources to increase the number of refugees that it accepts. However, recent legislation is attempting to do the opposite. The Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee recently introduced an act to place further restrictions on refugees, making fewer resources available and lowering the annual accepted number of people.

unnamedWith this game, we hope to demonstrate the difficulty of refugees trying entering this country , and display how much harder it would be if this bill is passed. The game will be played outside of the Massachusetts State Capitol Building. Our audience is US citizens living in the Boston Area. We want people from around the area to see the game being played in close proximity to the offices of the representatives. Our call to action is to have players and observers call their local representatives and ask them to vote no on the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act. We also suggest the audience should alert their public officials of the current biases in refugee acceptance, and request updated anti-discrimination legislation. We begin the exhibition in Boston because we are local, however this game could easily be played in a similar manner in many cities around the country.

The Game

unnamed-1The objective of the game is to win by successfully applying for refuge to the United States. To begin the game, everyone stands in a line, a certain distance (scaled based on the size of the playing area) from the goal line. Each person is assigned a character, with a unique backstory (the backstory is written on a player card that they are handed). Then, the moderator asks the players a series of questions. Based on the answer to those questions, the player steps forward (closer to the goal line) or backward (further). After the questions have been asked, players fold their “player card” into a paper airplane. Players have 45 seconds to fold their paper airplane. Once the time is up, they must throw their airplane toward the goal line. Players whose plane passed the goal line “won” (a metaphor for successfully being allowed into the United States). Players whose plane did not pass the line lost the game (a metaphor for their application being rejected).

Game Metaphors / Evaluation

Every part of the of the game is a metaphor for the actual process. The characters are a distribution of people with different backgrounds that are looking to get into the country. The questions asked make it more or less difficult (based on the player background) for them to be successful. These questions are based on the biases that can be seen by looking at the admissions data for immigrants & refugees (see sources, below). The goal line represents an application that has been successfully processed, which allows the character to enter the country. The limited time to make the paper airplane is representative of the rushed feeling of quickly having to do something (such as leave your homeland).

Future Additions / Improvements

Future additions could have more questions and more players. However the current version does have all of the basic game mechanics needed to clearly get the message across. It would be interesting to play in a larger space, as well as involve the audience in the process in a more substantial manner.


The basic game mechanic (of stepping forward or backward based on questions), is based on a Buzzfeed video What is Privilege. The content, however, is quite different. And we’ve made significant additions to the actual game play.

In terms of the data, we focused our attention on the Homeland Security’s Immigration Statistics for 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

Link to presentation