Meetings No 22
Constructive Journalism
Atti Soenarso: Journalism that offers a fuller picture of our world.
Cover Story
Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Gapminder
“We’re right, you’re wrong. It’s as simple as that.”
You have to have Stories to tell
The simple poetry of My Life as a Dog.
Long Tail Insights
The Power and Legacy of Conferences
Stories of serendipity, innovation and driving social change.
Smart Decision
Sustainable Meetings Vital Part of the New Strategy of Gothenburg
Gothenburg has a clear plan.
African Convention Bureaux Will Lead the Way
Agenda 2063 is a call to action.
IBTM World Announces Tech Watch Award shortlist
A shortlist of nine finalists has been announced.
Economic Impact
Incheon – Forward-thinking Metropolis
A South Korean city with a demand for business events.
You Are Not Safe
Predicting the birth of the Internet with 20/20 hindsight.
Global Index
Gaining Edge Launches Global Competitive Index
Bigger isn’t always more competitive.
IACC confirms 63 new member venues in Denmark
The new venues are part of Danske Konference Centre.
Isn’t It Time? The 13 Questions for Visionaries
Robin Sharma hopes to help you win.
Thought Leadership
A Futurist on the Future of Payments
Anders Sorman-Nilsson: It has to be frictionless.
Tips for Measuring ROI
Two ROI experts share their insights.
CWT Meetings and Events Forecast 2019
Data-driven insight and expert analysis to maximise your results.
Our Knowledge Bank Is Growing
Roger Kellerman: New knowledge flows to us.
How to pivot
Incon Launches Covid-19 Resource Page
with offices in 170 destinations.
one step at the time
Asia’s MICE sector
expected to rebound ahead of other regions.
First to open
Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center
in Reykjavík is ready for the post-Covid-19 era.
amazing opportunities
Amsterdam Drone Week
expands activities with hybrid summits.
opening up
Etihad Airways
adds more return flights, including Paris, Geneva, and Milan.
New faces
at The Hague Convention Bureau
to focus on key sectors.
one step at the time
Emirates to resume passenger flights from May 21
to nine destinations.
one step at the time
RAI Amsterdam:
‘We’re ready to reopen following social distancing guidelines’.
one step at the time
Iceland To Open
to Tourists Again On June 15th (With Conditions.)
13,254 rotating association meetings
2019 ICCA statistics captured 13,254 rotating association meetings,
US still country number one.
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Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Gapminder
In January 2016, Professor Hans Rosling was told by his doctor that he only had three or four weeks to live. Sweden’s superstar of the lecture circuit, known throughout the world for his passionate lectures, had incurable pancreatic cancer.

Hans Rosling exceeded all forecasts and survived a whole year before he died in early February 2017. Together with his son, Ola Rosling, and daughter-in-law, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, he worked on a book entitled Factfulness, which was published in April this year. The book gives ten ways to help us to understand the world and explains why the world is in better shape than most of us think. It is based on their intense discussions spanning across eighteen years.

During our interview with Anna Rosling Rönnlund it became clear that although the book is published, it is far from finished. Quite the opposite, in fact. The book describes how the authors visualise creating a tool for the socio-economic assessment of how the modern world map corresponds with the view of knowledgeable people.

“Statistical facts don’t come naturally to humans. Quite the opposite! Most people form their opinions on sweeping generalisations based on personal experiences. The media will sensationalise an event if it is unusual,” explains Anna Rosling Rönnlund. “Not much attention is paid to gradual, stable progression as part of a large trend. People often rely on outdated facts that they probably learned at school and which may have been outdated even then.”

Over the years, the Gapminder Foundation has used statistics from bodies like the World Bank and WHO, as well as from the government agencies of individual countries. These figures are available to the public but nobody has previously tried to make them easier to understand like the Roslings. Gapminder has used the statistics to compile a survey on the state of the world to test public knowledge on the subject. The depressing findings showed that we ordinary people have a view of the world that is systematically wrong. Of the 12,000 respondents in 14 countries tested in 2017, 15 per cent failed to answer any of the twelve questions correctly. The average was two out of twelve. The fact that the respondents were highly educated scientists, teachers, CEOs of multinational companies, journalists, students and politicians made no difference at all. Chimpanzees with random answers would have averaged four out of twelve. In other words, intelligence does not come into it. Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates had this to say on the book cover: “One of the most important books I’ve ever read – an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.”

But let us retrace our steps. On a Danish TV show called Deadline in 2015, Hans Rosling said, “You don’t look to news media if you want to understand the world.” He was invited to talk about world population growth. The interview began with Rosling giving the presenter, Adam Holm, a sharp retort in answer to his first question about Europe being under pressure from the refugee crisis. “We’re not under pressure,” he said. “Our part of the world has enormous resources. It’s about deciding how much you want to help. I’m well aware of the political debate in the Scandinavian countries, and perhaps throughout Europe, about refugee policy, but Europe has only taken a handful of refugees in relation to what it can actually take.” When the Danish presenter put forward the theory that a rapid population growth in Africa in the coming years will lead to an increased refugee flow to Europe, Rosling continued on the same path: “No, it will provide Europe with new export opportunities. They have a glittering economic future.”

During the live broadcast, Hans Rosling also said that the western world greatly misunderstood global development, and the notion that the world is divided into poor and rich people is basically wrong. “If you think that the majority of the world population is extremely poor, that girls don’t go to school and that poor people try to flee to richer countries then you’re far removed from reality. You have to understand there are countries at all levels, and most countries are somewhere in the middle.”

Hans Rosling also spoke of the press corps not always giving a true picture of events. “You don’t look to news media if you want to understand the world. Facts relating to actual events are fine, but you’re poor in that respect,” he said to the Danish presenter when he tried to discuss statistics, which he felt could be manipulated for political ends. But Rosling did not want to hear about statistics. “I’m not talking about statistics but real people who exist,” he said.

Neither did Hans Rosling accept the notion of a massive difference between the western world and the rest of the world. “You’re completely wrong. Of all the people in the world who can afford to fly on holiday, half live outside the western world.”

When the presenter asked him to explain that statement, Hans Rosling referred him to the UN and the World Bank: “This isn’t controversial. There’s nothing to discuss. I’m right and you’re wrong.” This is how the world got to know Professor Hans Rosling, whose appearances soon became legendary.

Gapminder was founded in Stockholm in 2005 by Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Hans Rosling. It is an independent Swedish foundation with no political, religious or economic affiliations. It began as a spin-off from Hans Rosling’s teaching at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm where he was confounded by the level of ignorance among his students and peers of the rapid improvement of health in Asia.

He began to measure ignorance among students and professors and presented the surprising results of what he called the “chimpanzee test” at his first TED talk in 2006. In the test question, Hans Rosling divided countries into pairs. Each pair had one Asian and one European country. He asked the students to select a country in each pair that had double infant mortality compared to the other country. If the country names had been written on five bananas, chimpanzees would have averaged 2.5 correct answers.

To Hans Rosling’s surprise, his Global Health Students performed worse than chimpanzees, that is to say their answers were worse than random answers. This means that their wrong answers could not have been the result of guesswork but of preconceived notions. Only preconceived notions, which systematically create, underpin and maintain ignorance, could give a result that was worse than random.

When Hans Rosling repeated the test on professors at the university he found that their results were equal to that of chimpanzees. Since then Gapminder has presented many types of data to many different people and encountered many preconceived notions and outdated terms for our modern world. One could say that Gapminder is a fact bank that combats devastating misconceptions on global development. The Foundation publishes free educational resources to make the world easier to understand based on reliable statistics and promotes a factual view of the world that everybody can understand. Gapminder collaborates with several universities, the UN, government agencies and NGOs.

Today the focus is on making educational material available free of charge to as many people as possible. Fact sheets have already been distributed in 24 languages, which testifies to the ambition level. A year after Gapminder was founded, Hans Rosling gave his first TED lecture on “The best statistics you’ve never seen.” His special combination of knowledge testing, bubble diagram animations and global development narratives made it one of the most watched TED lectures ever.

The animated bubble diagram is done with software called Trendalyzer, developed by Gapminder to make global open data understandable. In 2007, the software was acquired by Google and the team of developers moved to Google’s headquarters in California. For three years they improved the user experience of searching for and researching global open data. In 2010, Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Ola Rosling decided to leave Google. They returned to Gapminder to develop free educational material. To collect content to include in the educational material, they began measuring public knowledge – or rather the lack of it – with the Ignorance Project, but soon realised that publishing plain facts was not enough because the problem went deeper than that. People had a dramatically incorrect view of the state of the world. The Factfulness Project arose from the need to give people a factual picture.

The Roslings also started the Ignorance Project to look into public knowledge of basic global patterns and macro trends. They use questionnaires to give representative groups of people simple questions on important aspects of global development. When they find a great lack of knowledge they know which educational material to use. The first findings were published in the UK and Sweden in 2013 and they plan to add many more countries as the project progresses.

Anna Rosling Rönnlund says that through the Ignorance Project they have now decided to begin a systematic search for ’extensive ignorance of the state of the world’.

“Our priorities have been ruled by such ignorance. We’re interested in working closely with the social sciences and we want to become a knowledge centre. Gapminder is the ultimate tool for asking questions like “What were you thinking when you thought wrongly?”

Factfulness is a handbook for understanding the world – and for keeping dramatic instincts in check,” says Anna Rosling Rönnlund on the book’s relevance to politicians. “When we measure knowledge, no amount of intelligence or higher education appears to be sufficient to answer our questions correctly. Most of those we question get the answers systematically wrong. The three most common misconceptions about the world – that we work with in everything we do and which we take up in the book – are: “The gulf between rich and poor is getting wider”, “Everything is getting worse” and “The population just keeps growing.” The true facts are in the book and we recommend that politicians read it too. You learn to handle your dramatic instincts and understand the world around you much better, and this is just as relevant for politicians as anybody else. The most important thing is to be humble when confronting ignorance because most of us don’t know that we don’t know.”

Regarding the source of this ignorance Anna Rosling Rönnlund explains, “Partly it is a lack of knowledge. Media reporting makes events look more dramatic than they actually are. This is partly because the brain gives precedence to dramatic or sensational information.”

Don’t we want to know or aren’t we intelligent enough to take in the knowledge you put forward? Anna Rosling Rönnlund says, “We think we already know, but we’ve been given an over dramatic picture of the world. And when we think we already know, it’s difficult to relearn.”

“Ignorance makes us base our world picture, our feelings and our decisions on incorrect grounds. If we dedicated more time to checking facts we’d have a more factual world picture and be less stressed. Much of the world is better than we spontaneously believe, and we should be making better decisions.”

Anna Rosling Rönnlund thinks it’s worrying that so many respondents could get so many questions wrong, but says, “But as it’s a systematic error, people do it regardless of IQ and educational level. It’s also easier to put right and the information that replaces the incorrect information is not particularly difficult. It gives us hope that we can put it right quickly and easily.”

Anna Rosling Rönnlund says that it’s a basic necessity for business people to understand that this is what the world looks like. “We hope they read our book and take our knowledge test. We would like companies, educational bodies and public agencies to take our one-day course and get all their employees certified so as to set a precedent of having basic knowledge of global trends.”

Factfulness is written as a handbook with no academic jargon at all says Anna Rosling Rönnlund, which means that anyone can read it. She says, “I hope the book gives them practical tips on modifying their approach to gathering knowledge and that it provides them with a solid platform from which to view the world.”

Anna Rosling Rönnlund thinks that you have to show what’s wrong to get people to understand what’s right, because when people think they already know then they’re not motivated to learn. “The book should also be used in social sciences, placed next to the world map. The book teaches source criticism and self-criticism, which are equally important for understanding the world.”

Regarding challenges facing Gapminder Anna Rosling Rönnlund says, “Being a small, independent organisation gives us the liberty to do things in the way we feel is important and right. One challenge is attracting more Gapminder ambassadors to help spread the word to larger groups, another is in standardising the Factfulness certification.”

Anna Rosling Rönnlund returns to the Ignorance Project, explaining that it identifies the specific global statistical trends that have not reached out to the broader public. The issues surrounding the large trends and patterns. Issues that cover vital aspects of global development, such as environment, health, energy, gender, economy, demography and control.

“The most time-consuming part of the work is formulating the questions and response options. They must be exact, clear and not at all complex. The questions have to be based on well-documented facts of great significance but still be concrete enough to warrant one correct response. The questions and response options must be intelligible for everyone, especially for people with no great interest in the subject.”

She says that the first surveys in Sweden and the UK were in close cooperation with market research company Novus Group International.

“When we encounter ignorance, we try to find a remedy. Facts sometimes just have to be delivered. But in many cases, facts can be difficult to accept because they don’t tally with the misconceptions. They appear contra intuitive. In those cases,we find simpler ways of explaining them. These improvements are the core of Gapminder’s new and free teaching material that makes teaching and learning true facts easy and highly enjoyable. On top of explanations and data, we also provide facts about ignorance itself along with our questionnaire and links to our data sources.”

“This paves the way for others to measure world knowledge among students, colleagues, employees, applicants and website visitors without needing to search for data sources and writing questions themselves. One of the things we’re striving for is a knowledge-based certification that should ring just as loud on a person’s CV as a Harvard education. The test is on Gapminder’s homepage and is free. Anyone who passes before reading Factfulness receives a diploma.”

Anna Rosling Rönnlund compares the globalised world with a traffic system where you have to renew your driving licence every five years.

“Or you won’t be allowed to drive 120 km/h on the motorway. But we don’t have driving licences for the world, which means there are drivers in large bodies like foreign offices and UNHCR who don’t understand the regulations. We have politicians and a public who have a fixed world view that is no longer relevant. Who says we’re exaggerating? Can we really say that everybody is wrong? Yes, unfortunately. Then what can we do about it?”

Within the global meetings industry, the message sent by Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Ola Rosling needs to come across in channels such as ICCA, PCMA, The Iceberg Project, Best Cities, European Cities Marketing, MPI and Site, among many other organisations and networks. An injection of new knowledge is needed if the meetings industry is to continue developing at a global level. But we start here and take one step at a time.

Factfulness, rules of thumb

  • Reality is not often polarised. The majority is usually somewhere in the middle.
  • Positive news about improvements does not have the same news value. Bad news gives an unproportionately negative picture of the world.
  • Do not expect a straight, upward rising curve to continue that way. Curves change shape.
  • Frightening things that are reported are not necessarily the most dangerous. Conduct a risk assessment.
  • A figure that looks impressive will give the opposite impression when compared to another impressive figure.
  • Question how you pigeonhole the world so as to avoid incorrect generalisations. Look at the differences and similarities within and between groups.
  • A lot of things seem constant due to slow change. Remember that even slow change is change.
  • Consider a problem from many different angles to get a better understanding and to find practical solutions.
  • Laying the guilt onto a single person will often sway attention from other possible explanations. Don’t look for scapegoats.
  • When a decision seems acute, bear in mind that it usually isn’t. Take small steps.

Source: Factfulness. Ten ways to help you understand the world.