Harnessing The Power of Story Maps in Esri

Before COVID19, had you ever seen data presented in a Dashboard format? Probably, though you may not have noticed. Dashboards have really pushed into the mainstream since COVID19 as many organizations document, in this case positive test results, using a Dashboard. The COVID19 dashboard that is the most well known is the one maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

Many of the dashboards we see these days are “Powered By Esri”. We are a proud partner of Esri, and in addition to creating and maintaining dashboards, our team uses many more of the tools within Esri to support our clients in a variety of ways. One tool that we use near the end of our projects is the story map tool. Kaitlyn Bisping from our Intern team took some time recently to explain this tool and why we love it so much at Millennium Geospatial!

Please describe the story mapping tool – what goes into making it “work”?

KB: Esri has great tools for making story maps. They have had “Classic Storymaps” which was the original tool to create story maps. This version is still available, however, Esri has recently developed a new tool which is located at where we can create story maps directly within the tool (before you would need to make a map separately in ArcGIS Online). The Esri story map builder makes it easy to find and identify locations, and they provide a variety of ways to portray that information.

We receive a ton of positive feedback on our story maps – which is awesome! What do you find are some of the common themes when we receive feedback?

People seem to really enjoy visual storytelling and that’s exactly what we’re doing with one of our story maps. When prospective clients wonder how we may be able to help them with their immediate needs or even future goals, it’s helpful for them to see real case studies in this format. It’s not that we haven’t been able to put together useful presentations up until now, but the story map presents such an elegant way to consume the information. No more slide shows with a video embedded that once you click it takes you out to YouTube to consume! I think the enjoyable part about story maps is certainly the visual aspect but also the fact that all the information you need is integrated into a single location.

Also, unless you are an exceptional writer, it is difficult to create a captivating story with only words. Pictures, charts, descriptive text, video and of course maps, all go into making an interesting story. As a geography lover, I understand how important portraying location is when illustrating an issue or topic.  However, people from all different backgrounds are able to present their stories and easily incorporate those spatial components. I know when I read through a good story map, I love that it is much more interactive and easy to follow than say a simple news article, and I think that is a common feeling among people these days.

How long does it take to make a story map? Where is it hosted? Are they updated in real time or when it’s done it’s done?

The time involved to make a story map definitely ranges. If you are starting from total scratch, it can take quite a while to build because there are a ton of moving parts. All of the story maps we create at Millennium Geospatial are created using Esri and hosted on an Esri server. We can continuously update a story map and real-time data that we may have embedded into a story map (such as Dashboards) update in real time.

How do we determine what to put into one of our story maps for a completed project?

Honestly, this is the most difficult part for me when creating a story map. I start with a general case study outline: background information, the problem, the approach, the outcome and conclusions and then I grow the story map from there. It’s important to make sure the text is informative and engaging, yet concise – and this can be a difficult task!

Also, landing on the best way to visualize the information can be a challenge. Should certain parts be portrayed in a map? How can this part easily flow to the next section? What can I do to keep things varied and engaging, but also organized with a general theme? These are some of the questions I am constantly pondering as I create a story map.

What is one of your favorite features of the tool?

I really enjoy working with the latest story mapping tools within Esri because they allow you to make beautiful maps so quickly and easily. Overall, I love seeing what others have created and learning about all different topics in this format of storytelling. Esri allows people from all backgrounds to convey their story in a unique manner!