May 25, 2016

Story: Bringing Spatial Data to Life with Story Mapping

By Kristen Weiss
Maps are valuable, data-rich sources of information that showcase everything from geographic features and driving directions to climatic, biophysical, or human development patterns across the globe. However, while maps can be an effective way to communicate geographic research data, they can also be daunting to interpret and digest. 
To solve this problem, ESRI (the developers of ArcGIS mapping software) developed Story Maps, a platform that combines mapping visualization with narrative text, images and multimedia. Story Maps help map developers distil key messages about their maps in an engaging story to better engage their intended audience.
COS’s Lisa Wedding, research associate for spatial ecology and analysis, and Winn McEnery, geospatial research assistant, are harnessing the power of Story Maps in several COS projects including Coastal Adaptation and the Ocean Tipping Points Hawai'i’i case study.
“Story Maps are an exciting, place-based science communication tool that allows us to combine our data, scientific findings and embed the story around our research team and study site in a way that engages and informs the reader,” explained Wedding.
The Ocean Tipping Points project uses a story to map to demonstrate its goals. See it here.
Wedding and McEnery have also co-developed training materials for a series of Story Map training workshops and organized and taught two workshops to date in collaboration with Mimi D’iorio of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Nadine Golden of the US Geological Survey. Their goal is to inspire scientists and other map developers to tell effective stories about their map data and to equip them with the tools and knowledge to do so.
“The Story Map platform has come a long way since its conception by transforming into a tool that is easy to learn and use,” added McEnery. “Consequently, more users and broader audiences are being engaged by thought-provoking story maps.”
Their first workshop, Communicating Science through Story Maps, was held in March and introduced participants of the Monterey Bay Marine GIS User Group meeting to the Story Mapping platform. D'Iorio led the training, providing an introduction to the capabilities of the Story Mapping platform and showing several examples of how they’ve been used for diverse purposes and audiences.
“Story Maps are easy-to-use tools that help us to express data in more creative, meaningful and imaginative ways, making our science more accessible, memorable and impactful to the global online community,” said D’Iorio.
In the most recent workshop, Wedding and McEnery introduced COS staff to the purpose and potential uses of Story Mapping, how to effectively communicate key ideas and spent some time in a hands-on session working on their own Story Maps. Because Story Maps allow users to explore map data in a number of ways as well as watch videos and follow links for more information, they are a powerful tool for both synthesizing data and interpreting it for broad audiences.
McEnery (farthest left) gives hands on assistance to COS staff at a recent story map workshop.
“At COS, most of our project work is place-based, so Story Maps have allowed us to communicate effectively about the important and unique qualities in each of our study sites,” said Wedding. “We can use Story Maps to combine our spatial data sets, information, images and video to tell a more holistic place-based story about our latest research.”
COS plans to release several Story Maps in the coming months to help tell interactive place-based stories about our research in Hawaii and California, so be sure to keep an eye out on social media and our website.