Extension professionals adopt story mapping technology through the Impact Collaborative

This story was written by ChaNae Bradley, Senior Communications Specialist  at Fort Valley State University.

Shane Bradt, water quality and geospatial technology specialist for the University of New Hampshire, is helping Cooperative Extension professionals across the country share powerful messages about their outreach. It all began with his role as a key informant for the IMPACT Collaborative (IC).

The IC training is a day-and-a-half process that includes four steps. The steps include design thinking, key informant expertise, growing base of evidence-based practice and dynamic synergy. Each step comes with objectives that serve to change the way the teams work. After completing the process, the teams leave with a new plan allowing them to work more effectively.

Serving as a key informant for the IC four times, Bradt’s face-to-face trainings and webinars about story mapping, have provided a way for Extension professionals to share their stories in a dynamic fashion.  By incorporating information such as map data, videos or images, users are able to create interactive online websites.

“Most people in Extension have no web coding experience. This technology does not use coding or require the use of GIS or programming skills,” Bradt said, describing the use and mechanics of the technology he teaches to Extension professionals.

Because of his presentations at the IC, many attendees have developed Esri Story Maps, helping to spread the work of Extension beyond the local level.

“I think it changes the way you work because it provides a fairly easy way for an Extension educator to be able to use an online means to share information,” Bradt said.

As a result of his work with the IC, Bradt is requested across the country to conduct face-to-face trainings at land-grant universities and to present webinars for individuals who cannot attend a face-to-face training.

Jennifer Volk, an environmental quality Extension specialist for the University of Delaware, said she met Bradt at the IC and was intrigued by the Story Map he presented.

“That process was really good for me.  I was able to see other teams that were working on similar topics and taking similar approaches,” Volk said.  Reflecting on her experience, Volk said she began to think about how to implement some of the story mapping concepts Bradt presented.

“I saw a good connection between what he shared and a project I had in mind,” Volk said. The project she had in mind is called, “As If You Were There.”

This project brings together members of the Northeast Climate Hub and members of Cooperative Extension. Collectively the group is working to develop a 360 degree tour of different agriculture and forestry sites that are implementing climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

“We wanted to use a Story Map to tie together 20 individual tools,” Volk said.

The project leader said the goal is to allow the Story Map to be the starting point where users can use a map and tour sites within the Northeast region. Currently in the beginning stages, Volk said she hopes the creation of this Story Map can provide an opportunity to use tools that are interactive and more effective than traditional tools such as fact sheets and standalone web pages.

In addition, Casey Hancock, community and economic development program coordinator for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, began using story maps after participating in a weeklong GIS training taught by Bradt.

Through funding from the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, UNH Cooperative Extension and three other states received training from West Virginia University to learn how to implement the First Impressions program. First Impressions is an assessment program that helps communities learn about their assets and opportunities for improvement.

First Impressions allows community volunteers to conduct assessments of cities and towns in a secret shopper format. Once the assessment is completed, a report is provided to the community, which details the community’s strengths and opportunities for improvement around topics such as businesses, displays and signage, community vibrancy, and pedestrian safety.

“We knew when we brought the First Impressions program to New Hampshire we wanted to use mobile data collection,” Hancock said. “When we tried the program out, we discovered that it was hard to collect information secretly in the community with a paper booklet,” Hancock said.  

After taking one of Bradt’s courses, Hancock determined that a story map would help visually and spatially represent the assessments taking place by incorporating brief descriptions and photos of community volunteers’ observations. “The mobile data collection is the first step, then we qualitatively analyze the data to write a report. The story map supplements the report and provides the community with an interactive way to view data from the assessment,” Hancock said. An example of this work can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2rjFCyk.

Bradt, who continues to teach webinars and face-to-face trainings, said the biggest impact and most satisfying part of the training is allowing people in Cooperative Extension to think and explore the potential uses of Story Maps.

“They might use them to be more effective and at the same time, spread the awareness of this technology. I always enjoy teaching people about Story Maps, but the idea that Extension is using this to better do their jobs and accomplish more and inspire others is much more powerful,” Bradt said.

To see examples of story maps created to show outreach, visit https://bit.ly/2rlwFVf