Maps create a sense of place, especially when their subject hits close to home. They have the power to evoke emotional responses in us as map readers, particularly when we can see ourselves in the data.
For contributors to crowdsourced maps, that feeling of identification can turn into something actionable because their participation lets them insert themselves into the data, broaden a viewpoint, and even contribute to a cause they care about.
Crowdsourcing a map means gathering opinions, data, or information from a group of people and displaying that information spatially. This is often done by asking a map’s readers to answer a series of questions. Mapping these responses is particularly powerful when it’s added to a story, complete with a narrative and other media that provide context to the discussion. A live data feed allows the story to evolve as readers contribute more information, making the content richer and deeper.
When Not to Use Crowdsourcing
Although crowdsourcing is a powerful tool, it’s not the right tool for every story. Making sure you know the why behind that story is particularly important. If it’s not compelling enough, or you don’t have the right audience for a topic, crowdsourcing may be inappropriate, failing to attract participation—or worse—generating negative reactions.
Here are a few situations that might make you decide against using crowdsourcing in your story:
- You want to ask more than a couple of questions. Long surveys discourage participation, and responses can be cumbersome to display.
- You need to gather information that is sensitive or personally identifiable.
- The answers to your questions will not enrich your narrative and may distract from the map’s intent and the map reader’s experience.
- Your audience does not know enough about the subject to contribute meaningfully, or it’s premature to engage them.
- You do not have time to maintain a crowdsourcing component.
When to Use Crowdsourcing
There are some solid reasons for adding a crowdsourced element and here are some of them:
- You want to engage with a community on a topic that is mutually beneficial.
- You want to connect readers to your topic in a place-based manner and help them see themselves as part of a larger narrative.
- You want a real-time view of community perspectives on your topic now, and in the future.
- You have a practical application that requires collecting community reactions, such as understanding where a community may want to locate a new park.
- When done right, crowdsourcing can elevate community stories and opinions and even create change or inspire action.
Examples of Crowdsourcing Done Right
In these examples, notice how authors have incorporated crowdsourced data directly into ArcGIS StoryMaps. Explore this collection of stories to see how leading organizations use crowdsourced data to engage their audiences.
Birdability Map Viewer, a story by the National Audubon Society, uses crowdsourcing to glean practical information from community members. Audubon uses crowdsourced data to communicate the accessibility of outdoor locations. Each point—representing a trail, park, or birding area—is linked to information about parking, trail slope, trail conditions, and other factors that affect its accessibility. Anyone who enjoys outdoor spaces can submit a Birdability Review through the story and instantly see their contribution come to life on the map. The map also streamlines the search for accessibility information by offering near real-time, honest reviews of sites and their accessible and inaccessible features.
In Storytelling for the SDGs, crowdsourcing is used to gather community sentiments around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The story uses a two-question survey to ask how people feel about the current state of women’s representation in government. In the story, the map comes alive with a range of thoughts and opinions from around the world. The questions and the pop-ups are easy to understand, and the story wastes no time getting to the heart of the topic.
Share Your EarthPlaces relies on crowdsourced data on fascinating locations that was submitted by contributors using ArcGIS Survey123. The survey results are funneled into a data-driven map tour, were the image, location, title, and description supplied by the contributor appear on the map in real time. It’s a simple workflow for creating a fun and engaging experience that lets readers share and discover meaningful places around the world.
If crowdsourcing is something you want to try in your next story, look at the authors’ tutorial, “Combining crowdsourced data and ArcGIS StoryMaps.” It demonstrates multiple crowdsourcing workflows using Esri technology. These simple workflows can enhance your storytelling and engage your audiences.