Creating Point Clouds Over Tribal Lands

Points Clouds Over Tribal Lands is a scrolling narrative that attempts to assemble what seems like three disparate subjects – Native American Tribal Sensitivities, Federal responsibilities, and Technical innovation. Creating and using StoryMaps is one way of weaving these three topics together with technology and maps. StoryMaps are web mapping apps that can help communicate place, space, interconnections, processes, and values in a dynamic, multimedia environment. There are countless ways to tell any one story. Audience and key message are super critical to establishing narrative structure but no one said writing an engaging introduction is easy. I hope readers find something of value when they get to the end of my story.

The subject for this narrative comes from my experience as an intern at the USGS National Geospatial Program. And I felt its a story to be told. Esri’s storytelling tools, was my tool of choice because its full of storytelling capability, uses the modern design patterns, accessibility standards, and technology; and is the platform that receives frequent updates with new features and capabilities. Sharing stories is easy and facilitates demonstrating the value of any research effort.

Not quite as easy is the storytelling arc, which can be tricky, especially since there are parallel stories and a varying degree of proficiency on any particular topic. Working on separate storylines helped me see what the science and where the story may lie, and how different this is from how I used to think about inquiry. Keeping an audience interested from start to finish is critical.

A recent article about The National Oratory Fellow Performances hosted by Ford’s Theater reminded me of the importance of the “rhetorical triangle” composed of the “appeals”- Ethos, Logos and Pathos – in crafting an argument. Ethos is the credibility of the speaker, Logos is having a well-reasoned argument, and Pathos is creating an appeal to the emotions of the audience. They suggest the key to compelling others to listen to your idea is how the argument is crafted. The feedback I received from classmate Peter V hints on a similar point. Does the story come across as trustworthy and well-meaning? Do I have the experience to speak on the issue? What is my connection to it? Is the argument logical?

An effective way to see this in action is to reference a good example. The example I used is the story of the three National Geographic explorers who visited Guatemala to learn more about the coexistence of volcanoes and communities. This story contains a mix of text and media that is designed to keep readers’ attention throughout the entire story. It introduces scientific inquiry without being too technical, and it uses maps and other locational elements to help readers step into the shoes of the explorers.

In the Shadow of a Volcano

Around the world, volcanoes threaten nearly half a billion people. Scientists are working to better forecast when eruptions will occur and support communities that live with this risk.

If you linked to the storymap above, you may have noticed the example story is told chronologically—it has a natural beginning, middle, and end. It starts with the explorers arriving in Quetzaltenango. Ready to make a difference, the explorers head up the volcano to test their gear. It finishes with the photo exhibit created for community members, bringing the narrative back to the stated mission of the explorers and providing a satisfying sense of closure to its audience. The author describes the geologic processes of volcanoes without relying on a lot of scientific jargon. Because there aren’t many technical terms, a reader who isn’t familiar with earth science can still navigate smoothly through the narrative, focusing on the high-level ideas that make the expedition important in the first place. There are a range of tools and approaches that public historians are using to create digital public history experiences.

I had a tough time debating how to develop that arc. Luckily Professor Kelly pointed out a logical sequence to the three converging topics and suggested a more appealing introduction would hook readers in. A skilled persuasive storyteller will try to utilize the all three “appeals” when essentially making an argument. Likewise a skilled listener will lookout for all three appeals before being convinced! Time constraints and rookie blues make this a stretch for me.

Once I added the text, I started adding and adjusting media to bring the story to life. Images, video, and other media are important because they break up a long narrative and provide context. Individual images, slider panels and an immersive sidecar to the story were added to change the appearance to best fit the story. I also added videos and to the story. Peter mentioned that incorporating external links may compromise authority of the material but I think it adds to the trustworthiness of the material.

Before publishing, you’ll review the story. This step is important because you want to make sure what you’re sending out to the public is accurate and represents the best telling of the story. In addition to proofreading and editing, this is a good point to ask others for feedback on the story. Peter V’s feedback was great and I hope to incorporate the feedback but I I think he may have reviewed an initial draft prior to finishing. Any branding for USGS will come later as adding logos without getting clearance isn’t permitted.

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