Is Your Ministry Challenge a Puzzle or a Mystery

The type of research and thinking required in global mission has fundamentally shifted and few have taken notice. I don’t say this to be controversial, I say it because today I see people asking last century’s questions and hoping for 21st Century insight.

Most of our line of inquiry in mission is assuming that we simply do not have the information and need to collect it in order to understand our world better and make decisions. This was the case in the mid-1900′s when the amount of activity and complexity of the activity were fairly limited. In those days the question, “Where is the church and where is it not?” “How many Christians are there in a given country or province?” “Where is a Scripture translation underway and where is a translation needed?”

In today’s globalized world the complexity is much higher but the amount of information we have is also exponentially greater. Today’s complex world requires us to ask questions that will overlay various pieces of the information already collected to give us insight to very specific situations.

The difference between a line of research defined by a lack of information and a line of research defined by multiple streams of complex or conflicting information is described in Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article, “Open Secrets” (reprinted in his book “What the Dog Saw”). In this article Gladwell applies Gregory Treverton’s principle of “Puzzles vs. Mysteries.” Simply put, when solving a puzzle the main ingredient needed is more information. However, when solving a mystery the main ingredient needed is insight.” Gladwell goes on to give very practical examples. Finding Osama Bin Laden was a puzzle whereas understanding Enron’s fall was a mystery. The first required information in the form of intelligence. The second required people to go through mind-numbing amounts of publicly filed paperwork and understand the complex financial tools being employed in risky ways.

In the missions world today, we have fewer puzzles and more mysteries. There are still places in the world where we simply need more information. There are countries like Laos, North Korea or parts of India where we truly need more basic information about the Church and the status of the Gospel. However, for most of the world you can get this information at one level or another.

Our greater challenge involves the mysteries of mission. For instance, “How do we know when a church is sustainable?” “What triggers growth in a national Church?” “How do we measure and understand discipleship?” “How do we reach a people group when so many are in cities and in diaspora communities?”

For each of these items we have a myriad of data points, on-the-ground stories and theories. The challenge is to work through the data and the complex situations to try and come up with possible ways to understand these questions and make decisions based on that understanding.

If what Gladwell described is really the situation facing mission, that has significant implications for the mission community. For one thing, we need fewer counters and more analysts. We need fewer people out collecting data in the field and more people analyzing what we already have. We also need people who are able to understand complex cultural, religious and geopolitical realities.

Secondly, those of us in leadership need to recognize the difference between the puzzles and mysteries and think strategically about what we are trying to solve. Many of us are mobilizing the resources necessary to solve a puzzle when we really have a mystery on our hands.

The last century required persistent puzzle solvers but this new century will require inquisitive detectives who love a good mystery. Do you have any good detectives in your mission agency? If not, now is the time to start looking.

Building Your Own Infographics - A Review of Two Web Services

Guest Post: Nathaniel McComb, GMI Intern - Summer 2014

For many ministries and organizations, infographics are a growing resource for sharing data and information with the world. Some organizations, though, may not have the budget to hire graphic designers or other specialists to make what they need. Luckily, there are websites available that can help with this problem, two of which I will focus on and review here. The two websites, Piktochart (http://piktochart.com/) and Infogr.am (http://infogr.am/), are both free-to-use sources for creating infographics.

Piktochart, as mentioned, is an easy to use website for producing infographics. The website offers four templates for different styles of presentation, depending on the desired use. These include a standard infographic template, a report template (helpful for condensing necessary information within a specific page limit), a banner template (more akin to a poster, useful for making announcements or advertisements) and a presentation template, which fits the information in a frame style similar to other presentation software (Microsoft Powerpoint, for example).

Once a template is selected, you are brought to the main workspace for creating the infographic. This area is very user-friendly, with multiple sidebar tabs containing many different styles of text, graphics, and other components. There are a full range of tools to use, including editable charts and maps, as well as the ability to add video. The template itself is quite user-friendly as well. The template area is broken up into “blocks” (which are themselves smaller work areas), allowing for easy navigation between multiple areas on the infographic.

This website seems to have a strong focus on creative freedom. The various graphics and icons, as well as multiple options for customizing backgrounds, colors, and fonts, allow a user to be as creative with their infographic as they would like. Piktochart also has various options in regard to downloading your infographics (including JPEG and PNG file types). Downloading your infographic is not the only way of making it available, as there is an option for sharing it through Piktochart’s website.

Piktochart has a subscription payment option for those who would like to get more out of the website. At $29/month (or $290/year), the website allows a third file type for download (PDF), as well as the removal of the Piktochart watermark from user-made infographics.

Now looking at Infogr.am, there are a few key distinctions. For Infogr.am, the overall focus seems to be less on graphics and other visual aspects, primarily allowing these factors to support the data and information.

Regarding templates, this website has 6 main color schemes to create new infographics. The layout of the workspace is one continuous work area (in contrast to Piktochart’s “block”-style), which can be helpful (or cumbersome) depending on the length of the infographic. Infogr.am also allows the use of charts, maps, and videos to be used in creating infographics.

As mentioned, this website does not focus as much attention on creative expression. There are no options for adding or placing shapes or other icons, and the color and font styles are usually limited to the choice of design template. This may not be a disadvantage, though, depending on the type of infographic needed (i.e. if you would like a streamlined, data-focused infographic, Infogr.am may be a good choice).

One very important aspect of Infogr.am that must be mentioned (and, as I saw it, highly inconvenient) is the download option. Without signing up for either of the two payment options, you cannot download your infographic in any format. This does not mean you cannot do anything at all with the infographic, though. You can share your infographic by posting it through the Infogr.am website. Along with the ability to download, the first tier subscription (which costs $18/ month) allows for using real-time data, private sharing, and opens up four more design templates. The second tier subscription (called “White Label”, $50/month) allows all the aspects of the first tier subscription, plus the ability to remove the Infogr.am watermark, remove the default share buttons, and add a custom logo to the infographic.

As I see it, both websites are helpful for creating infographics on your own. Depending on your desired style, length, or level of creative expression, one website may trump the other. Likewise, one or the other may be preferred regarding the method of sharing your infographic (where through sharing it through either website, or downloading it and sharing it through specific channels in that way). Overall, Piktochart and Infogr.am can both be useful tools for many organizations and ministries in sharing data or other information.