Harnessing the power of maps to tell your story

  • Emma Schwartz
  • July 30, 2015
Harnessing the power of maps to tell you

We live in a 140-character world. For nonprofits, it has become increasingly important to tell stories in simple, yet compelling ways to grab (and keep) an audiences’ attention. With a range of innovative tools at their fingertips, it’s imperative that organizations select the right platform for their purpose, and use it effectively.

“Story Maps” offer nonprofits the chance to harness the power of geography to tell their story. Whether for promotional purposes, for internal circulation, or for advocacy and outreach, story maps combine interactive maps with multimedia to engage audiences with projects and analyses.  

Earlier this month, the Blue Raster team joined us to share an overview of story maps and several resources available to help build them.

While historical geographic information system (GIS) applications offer a lot of functionality, they can oftentimes be confusing to an average user. Story maps strip away these elements, enabling even the most non-technical audiences to easily visualize patterns and trends.

“One of the things that we at Blue Raster love about [Story Maps] is their ability to bridge the gap between GIS and the public,” shared Blue Raster GIS analyst Christina Phang.

Blue Raster has helped clients share their stories using the power of GIS technology since 2002. The team specializes in application development, GIS/mapping and open data. Through a partnership with Esri, Blue Raster has access to the ArcGIS platform tools and mapping engines that allow them to implement solutions for clients. They also go beyond the platform when clients are interested in greater levels of customization.

“We have built applications for several of the NetHope members as well as a significant number of global conservation organizations focusing on the interactivity within data and the ability to go beyond just looking at dots on a map but actually perform analysis within a browser application or the web,” said Blue Raster principal and co-founder Michael Lippmann.

NetHope member clients include Catholic Relief Services (CRS), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), FHI 360, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Blue Raster recently built a Global Forest Watch Fires map in partnership with the World Resources Institute to promote advocacy and a call to action against man-made fires in a protected area of Indonesia. The application shows where the fires are happening as well as high-resolution imagery and air quality monitoring data.

“Often times clients come to us and say ‘we have all this analysis and content but don’t know how to turn it into something cool and interactive,’” said Christina.

The Esri Story Maps site is a great place to start. The homepage is a portal to a gallery of select examples highlighting creative approaches and best practices. Blue Raster walked through four of them, two of which were maps created for TNC and WCS.

As Christina said, “The best ones are often times the most simple ones.”

Esri provides nine templates that let users easily create effective story maps. Site resources also include a list of five principles of effective storytelling and a set of instructions on how to create a story map.

The Blue Raster Story Map Starter Kit is a one-page document of a series of nine questions to help organizations frame their story and accelerate the process. Questions spark discussion around the crux of the desired message and the target audience and influence the creation of compelling and succinct content.

According to the Blue Raster team, gathering all of the components – the photos, videos and text that underscore the story – is where most of the work lies.

Christina showed how easy it is to build a map once you have this information by demonstrating how to inject content from the starter kit to create a Story Map Journal. In the event that you don’t have your own map data, you can browse Esri’s “Living Atlas,” a curated list of ArcGIS online maps available for use.

Visit to learn more about how Blue Raster can help you tell your story, or contact Christina Phang ( to request the Blue Raster Story Map Starter Kit. >>

Click here to listen to the recording and view webinar collateral >>

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