Monday, April 10, 2017

Story Mapping to Get Beyond Boring Bad News

My new post at WWF's ClimatePrep blog is live! Check out Story Maps: A Rising Star of Climate Change Communication, featuring an interview with the father of Story Maps at Esri, Allen Carroll. Story Maps are a set of applications (templates for different kinds of stories) available for free at the Esri Story Maps website that help turn maps into storytellers using web links, video, audio, and images.

Credit where it is due: I lifted the phrase "boring bad news" to describe climate change information from a 2014 article on Story Maps by public media outlet KCET's Environment Editor Chris Clarke.

He was covering the Stanford course on using Story Maps for global change communication, I believe one of the first courses of its kind. The course came about when the California Office of Planning and Research (OPR) went to Stanford paleobiologist Elizabeth Hadly and asked if she could get her students to produce a Story Map on climate change in California that they could use in their outreach efforts. Specializing in storytelling as a communication tool (her Twitter profile says, "Using stories told by the past to illustrate our choices for the future..."), she obliged by sending two of her Ph.D. students out to teach a course. Now courses on using Story Maps to talk about climate change (or global change) seem to be popping up at higher education institutions across the country.

Omitted from my article was Allen Carroll's response to my question about what has surprised him in the deployment of Story Maps. He said that coming from National Geographic (where he was Chief Cartographer for 27 years, "we were big on stories") he was naive, thinking people would just know how to tell a story. By "people" I understood him to mean "map-making software engineers." It sounds like his biggest ongoing struggle is to make technicians step back from dazzling new builder functions and the ease of adding data layers and other content to edit out anything that doesn't support the narrative. Simplicity and creativity are what he's looking for in a good Story Map.

Explore the gallery of exemplary Story Maps curated by Allen Carroll and his team.

My favorite Story Map at the moment: Forest Management, Gender and Climate Change: A Story Map from the Mexican Forest States (2016) by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), featuring engaging video and photographic content.

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