Mapping for Macro Practice

austrian map of sites of racist graffiti

I am, without a doubt, one of the world’s most spatially-challenged human beings. There is a notorious story from my marriage of one time in Germany when I was supposed to be figuring out where we were going on the map. I insisted that it wasn’t on there at all, which, of course, was not only false but maddening to my husband. I just can’t figure out how to picture things spatially at all, even though I appreciate greatly those who can visualize.

So, the resources that I found here, from my good friends at TechSoup, not only blew me away but also took me quite a while to figure out. I admit that I still haven’t really figured out exactly how these organizations created these maps, but there is a lot of helpful advice out there that should be especially helpful to those of you not as spatially-challenged as I. I’ve linked to some of the tools that will help, and to this extremely helpful TechSoup article that explains a lot of this.

The point is this: social workers and nonprofit folks are really good at telling stories of the people we help, and we’re getting better at backing that up with hard data that bolster our case, but we have a ways to go in learning to paint the kinds of pictures that can be immediately compelling to policymakers. In addition, I am totally impressed by how some nonprofits have been able to use these mapping tools to create applications beneficial to their clients and other audiences. I have linked directly to some of these examples below.

I found the Google Maps for Nonprofit Toolkit helpful (the advice really isn’t nonprofit-specific, but it’s definitely in language that non-tech people can understand), and the Google LatLong blog (where you can search by ‘nonprofit’ to pull up some good posts)–actually, I was able to understand most of the Google Maps stuff, but I got lost in some of the Google Earth discussions. My reading indicates that I may not be alone; while Google Earth can allow you to do some really cool things, many people don’t have the complete functionality installed and/or are intimidated/confused by its immersive style, so most of the examples I saw that reflected nonprofit usage were from Google Maps instead.

Still, I think that Google Earth is probably the future; it’s really pretty amazing, and there’s a new Showcase that features only nonprofit and ‘public benefit’ maps, and the examples there are incredible (you may not be able to see all of these, depending on your computer–imagine a 3D tour of refugee camps around the world set to the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter–yeah, I think people could get into that). Google Earth also has a nonprofit connection page, and there are grants available to help nonprofit organizations acquire the necessary software capability to create and use Google Earth maps.

The New Orleans Food Map is awesome. Imagine: you’re hungry in New Orleans and confused about what is still open, which organizations are serving, where you can go to get what you need. Rather than calling a hotline and receiving a list of addresses that you’d then have to navigate, you can visually find what you need and figure out what’s close to where you are. Or, check out the list where I found the map from above–maps all decided to activism, all around the world.

Some other cool maps to check out (note how you can integrate photos, video, and audio–it’s pretty awesome, and the directions are easy to follow):

Our Stories

Toxic Tours

And here’s the link to the TechSoup article if you want to check it out. It has a very helpful side-by-side comparison of the different mapping products out there.

I’d love to see your examples or hear your feedback about how you’ve used mapping in your advocacy and/or program work. What would make this more useful to you? What, do you think, is the best application of mapping that you’ve seen in the nonprofit world?

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2 responses to “Mapping for Macro Practice

  1. Melinda, this is EXACTLY what I have been looking for! I am working with a nonprofit that is interested in mapping an effort of theirs to teach self-defense to women for 10 days in Israel. This is a great resource for them. I have found one other interesting mapping tool that I have not yet explored: http://open.cridata.org/maps/mapas/index.html. The site, MAPAS, describes itself as “MAPAS is a one-stop interactive mapping and data application tool aimed to make relevant local, state, and federal information more readily accessible to foundations, nonprofit groups, government, media groups and citizens at large.” Given your profession and interest, it might be a great tool for you to also explore.
    @askdebra

    • Thanks for the feedback, Debra, and for the new resource. I’ll check it out this afternoon. I mean it about how spatially-challenged I am, but I was so blown away by the maps that other NPOs have created, and by how user-friendly the whole process is..and my husband was amazed that I actually managed to make a map! But it sounds like MAPAS integrates existing data into the map, which would make it a great tool for policy work, in particular (my driving passion!). Thanks again.

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