In a world inundated by so much information, campaigns and actions are won by a mixture of ingredients: a creative team, a kickass strategy, an effective online presence, a strong group of supporters and a winning story. The last point is highly subjective because there are many ways and forms we can tell a story.

Refugee camps in the world | ESRI

Refugee camps in the world | ESRI

Besides the obvious forms (videos, photos and the regular blog post), how else do we tell great stories? In the first installment of Mob Lab’s peer learning sessions for this year, Sarah Hipsley, Greenpeace Australia-Pacific’s graphic designer shared how maps can be as powerful as photos and videos in telling stories.

Her one-hour session took us through a quick visual treat of sample maps from ArcGIS, a mapping platform offered by the Esri company, that tell campaign stories from various organisations and non-profits — from the world’s crop yields to the drones in Pakistan and the refugee camps in Syria.

The power of maps

Maps are highly visual tools that can provide a clearer context and deeper understanding of an issue. It can, for example, take one through a journey of geo-tagged photos of natural attractions in an area.

5-point checklist for using maps as storytelling tools

    • What is the story you are trying to tell?
    • How good is your data and does it have integrity?
    • What is the most appropriate kind of map to tell your story?
    • How do you best represent your data on the map?
    • What is the user experience you want to create?

Maps can also show the points of interests surrounding an area or location. “It gives a place its sense of identity and shows the community,” explains Sarah. And finally, overlaying two maps of an area can tell a before-after story, one that is especially powerful to show the impacts of destructive industries or events.

Storytelling with maps: Dont’s

  •  It’s a story – don’t forget the narrative
  • Don’t forget a memorable title and introduction
  • Don’t have long, convoluted text. Let the map and the picture tell the story
  • Don’t use stats and data that aren’t relevant
  • Don’t have unclear categories
  • Don’t forget to make data transparent and downloadable where possible

Sarah also presented some of the common mapping tools online, such as Mapbox, Ushahidi, InfoAmazonia, and Public Lab. With these tools, the lingering and more important challenge is how can we use these tools to get stories about the things we are fighting for out into the world and get more people to understand and support our fight?

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