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Using Maps to Deliver Your Message

I had the opportunity to attend the Planning and Conservation League's annual Symposium this past weekend. There were many sessions to choose from but one in particular caught my attention. The topic was using maps to persuade and mobilize. The presenters were Larry Orman and Tim Sinnott from GreenInfo Network and Rebecca Moore from Google Earth Outreach.

Larry Orman started off with a great point: we're overloaded with geographic information. We've got access to road maps, mash ups, interactive maps, climate change maps, election maps, and geotagged photos. But Larry pointed out that mapping is about having a point, not just about showing data.

Why are maps a popular choice for displaying cross-sections of information? One reason is that data is not an obstacle. It's available and much of it is free. Also, computers and mapping software are less expensive. And new generations of folks are map-savvy.

GIS (geographic information system) is one mapping tool that marries data and places. GIS can be used to analyze information, such as land use, commercial development, pollution impact, and to define alternative outcomes.

Maps, in general, can be used to tell a story or convey a message. Mapping tools let you unfold data in layers to reveal parts of the story. It is important, Larry emphasized, that you think about mapping as communications. Technology is whizzy and great, but it is still critical that you have a good story. You need to know who your audience is, what your message is, how much time people will have to view your map as well as at what distance and in what context.

Rebecca Moore reinforced that maps can be very effective for telling a story or delivering a message, particularly when you don't have much time to deliver it. She noted that maps can change an abstract concept into something personal for people. When done right, maps can show what is at stake instead of just telling what is at stake. They can inspire action, influence decision-makers, reach the media, and impact public policy.

If you are interested in using maps as part of your outreach strategy, there are a number of tools to try:
-- Google SketchUp
-- Google Earth
-- ArcExplorer
-- Interactive mashups
-- GeoPDFs

While there are many examples, two in particular you may want to view are:
-- Ocean Conservancy's "A Preventable Tragedy"
-- Appalachian Voices' "I love Mountains" campaign

And finally, if you want to read more, try these resources:
-- Google Earth Blog
-- ESRI Conservation Program

Happy Mapping!
Bobbi Russell

January 16, 2008 in Communications Skills, Environment, Media Training, Message Development, Network Advocacy, Organizing, Technology | Permalink

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Comments

I'm a big fan of using maps to tell a story, and to focus attention on all parts of a city or country where volunteers and donors are needed. I've been piloting this capacity for more than 10 years and you can see this in the Program Locator section of http://www.tutormentorconnection.org

In the Links section of the T/MC site I have a section with links to various organizations using GIS in innovative ways, as well as to organizations using concept maps and other forms of information visualization. This is interactive, so if you know of great sites, you can add them to the T/MC site yourself.

Posted by: Dan Bassill at Feb 5, 2008 3:32:04 PM


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