Story Map Rallies Local Community to Get Out the Vote

By Matt Felton, Datastory Consulting

Providing information to voters in a way that is easy to understand is one of the keys to successful election outcomes. David Hicks, a commercial real estate broker in Allen, Texas (just north of Dallas) knows this. He collaborated with Esri partner Datastory Consulting to create a story map, using ArcGIS Online, that helped explain a $272 million public school bond to voters. As a result, Hicks helped pass the largest bond to date in the district.

The bond money will be used by Allen Independent School District (AISD) to expand facilities and improve programs in the growing area. Student enrollment, which has doubled since 1989, is currently 20,780 and is expected to grow 2.25 percent over the next five years. That is three times the national average. The bond will help AISD grow to meet that demand as well as help children prepare for college and twenty-first century careers by building a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) center that will serve up to 2,000 students each day.

Story Map Provides Rich Information for a Complex Issue

The Project Kids Committee, an 80-member community group consisting of students, parents and teachers met to review the facility needs of the district and understand their financial and instructional impact. The committee had helped form bond proposals on five previous ballots, but this was by far the biggest measure ever proposed.

In 2015, the focus of the committee was on five key facility needs: Lowery Freshman Center, expansion of Allen High School; elementary school renovations; possible construction of an eighteenth elementary school; and improvements to safety, security, transportation and technology across the district. Members also evaluated the readiness of facilities to support Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) curriculum as construction and renovations occur within school facilities.

As a longtime resident and active businessman in the community, Hicks is a member of the Kids First Allen Political Action Committee (PAC), which supported the 2015 school bond. The PAC is composed of parents, friends, and neighbors who are united in building strong schools in Allen, and the PAC’s mission has been to inform the public about the bond and its importance to ISD.

As a means to communicate the complex bond, Hicks commissioned Datastory Consulting to create the Kids First Allen story map. Story maps help organize complex ideas in a way that is meaningful and engaging, because story maps provide interactive access to data through the lens of a map. Viewers of the Kids First Allen story map can scroll through information and see on a map exactly what is being proposed for the school district, and where.

Hicks chose the story map format because it is easy for anyone to navigate and provides a way for viewers to step through information in a logical fashion. As viewers are reading information, they can click hyperlinked text for more detail while maintaining context of the larger story. For example, users can understand why a new elementary school is necessary when they see that area along with locations of highest population growth in the district, and the location of current schools.

Videos were also embedded into the story map, providing additional information about specific projects, such as the STEM center.

Rallying Voters

The story map, displayed on the Kids First Allen web page, was used for nearly 40 live presentations during various meetings around the district and was part of a direct marketing campaign to get out the vote.

Hicks and his community were successful in getting the $272 million school bond passed on November 3, 2015, and the results were impressive: 75.7 percent voted for the bond.

Turnout for this election was 13 percent of registered voters, a great number for a bond election, which, on average, draws from 5 to 15 percent of eligible voters.

Votes for the election totaled 6,967, smashing the previous voter turnout record of 4,758 made in May 2004. The previous record was for voting on a ballot that had both a school bond and a local option for alcohol sales, two popular topics that typically rally communities. 

Creating a Smart Community, One Vote at a Time

Hicks is on the front line of creating a smart community, using technology to improve the quality of life in his neighborhood. When citizens don’t have access to information, they tend to be more critical of government decisions. Providing information helps all parties operate from a common base of understanding grounded in fact, and it creates the transparency citizens are requesting.

Longtime residents sometimes don’t realize how much their community has changed over time, and they base their policy opinions on outdated information. Leaders can communicate a lot of information quickly and effectively by using maps to display data, trends, and analyses, much like the Project Kids Allen story map did for this community. Informing citizens is important, especially as communities generate plans for the future and seek participation from citizens in shaping and approving those plans.

Hicks has found that using ArcGIS Online has made his firm very successful at competing for business in the Dallas area commercial real estate market and has also freed his time for building relationships and giving back to the community. In addition to creating a story map that influenced a historic local election, he has successfully brokered a client’s 16-acre land donation to ISD. The donation will be used for the Allen High School STEM Center, which will serve more than 2,000 students per day beginning in 2018.

And not surprisingly, Hicks is actively involved in coordinating a GIS program for the new center.

More about David Hicks

After working with successful national and international firms for the first 22 years of his career, David Hicks opened his own small commercial real estate brokerage and development consulting firm. His four person company generates an annual sales volume of approximately $50 million.

Eighteen months ago, Hicks adopted the Esri ArcGIS Platform to enhance his company’s research and marketing, and with the expertise of Datastory Consulting, the technology is applied across most aspects of the business. Location analytics drives better decisions for clients who lease or buy real estate, and interactive maps on the company’s website simplify access to the information needed to evaluate specific sites for clients. Leveraging geographic knowledge has helped Hicks maximize his group’s time to compete with larger organizations and better serve customers. Now Hicks uses story maps daily.

“Freeing myself from spending time in research and presentation preparation gives me the time to focus on customer and client relationship building and actual transaction negotiation,” said Hicks. “This way, our small firm can provide a level of service previously only available from much larger companies.”

This means taking time to help his community through the Kids First Allen project.