Innovate Your Communications with a StoryMap

Throughout this summer, I had the really unique and exciting opportunity to address a gap in the park’s stewardship work. The gap was that of trail repairs. I learned about a range of trail repair needs that the park experiences and natural, low-technology methods to address the needs.  We sought to increase accessibility of trail treatment methods and aid the park in managing and preserving its trails and natural resources. Minute Man National Historical Park wanted to organize the information in one place that would be accessible internally to the park and externally to volunteer groups and contractors. We decided to use a software called Esri StoryMap. 

Trail Stewardship StoryMap screenshot

A screenshot of the StoryMap I built for Minute Man National Historical Park

A StoryMap is a web application for immersive multimedia storytelling. As the National Park Service puts it, StoryMaps elevate high quality content to a more immersive, interactive, place-based format than the NPS website will allow. StoryMaps are being created across the National Park Service to convey a range of topics from research to interpretative information to planning processes. Some examples include Mount Rainier’s planning StoryMap and a StoryMap about different national parks. I had a very positive and easy time becoming familiar and comfortable with the StoryMap. This link takes you to the StoryMap that I created called “Trail Stewardship at Minute Man National Historical Park”. Using StoryMap for National Park Service work and communications can be contextualized into a larger trend and approach of reaching audiences digitally, as well as digitizing internal processes. Understanding the benefits of a StoryMap and facility in building one can assist with decision making. 

What can a StoryMap accomplish that a website does not? I have never built a website and have only created one StoryMap, but I would like to take a moment to weigh the pros and cons. A StoryMap takes the Park Service into the 21st century. A StoryMap is visually similar to modern web pages that people engage with regularly. A StoryMap allows you to merge media, maps, content, and sound easily, while creating an interactive, user-friendly tool. From my few attempts to work on websites for other jobs, creating a StoryMap is much easier. The tools and resources to make a StoryMap within the National Park Service and beyond make every step extremely easy. This task does not need to be left to your computer or tech person at your park. With that said, parks need the capacity and time to successfully innovate, learn, and adapt. Creating a StoryMap can go wrong. The story can be ineffective, cluttered, unclear, and poorly formatted or organized. To prevent a failed StoryMap, some planning goes a long way. 

You may find the first time around that no matter how much you plan, the StoryMap can still fall short of what you hope for. You are learning how to build the bike and riding it as well. This was a bit of a challenge for myself and our team and it resulted in a few mistakes and weaknesses in our StoryMap. For example, we desired to use the swipe tool within our final StoryMap for before and after pictures of repair sites. We did not successfully capture before and after pictures and could not use the swipe tool. I would expect the second time around to be much smoother and easier! Moreover, the StoryMap is in its first version and now that the bike has been built, the park staff and future interns can ride it! 

Here are a few questions and ideas for reflection regarding StoryMaps:

  • It would be interesting to study and learn the click rates of StoryMaps in comparison to websites.
  • Are we putting the beautiful StoryMaps in the hands of people that can truly leverage them for learning, education, and participation in planning processes? 
  • Could StoryMap even be the new Powerpoint – a software for sharing information that all members of your team are familiar with? It sure would be more dynamic and just as easy to create.

The National Park Service has a tremendous amount of knowledge, talent, and expertise in all departments. Information that they seek to communicate can be provided in an easy-to-understand manner with a StoryMap, like this Storymap about a shipwreck at Isle Royale National Park. We know that making our parks accessible is a priority and with that, educating beyond the physical boundaries of our parks into schools, homes, and more. Innovating and adapting to the public’s forms of communication is a way of making information accessible. StoryMap is a great tool for accomplishing this goal and more. 

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