The Challenge of GIS: Communication
The theme of my day (Tuesday) at GIS Pro 2013 was communication.
Kristy Fifelski, Media Director at e.Republic Inc. addressed how we as GIS people do, and perhaps should, communicate about our favorite technology. While she focused on “new media” such as videos and social media, she also came right back to the words we use, which can sometimes be called “govspeak.” While these terms may be formal and accurate, oftentimes they do not convey the important message. While we sometimes talk about making sure our Mom or Dad (or Grandma or Grandpa) could understand our announcements or even what we do, clearly, not everyone is government checks that they in fact do. She suggest in the “about” section of a GIS team’s website it might say, “We like maps. We make maps to help better decide how to use the land in our city.” In short, she said we need a “simple, precise way” to communicate.
She offered a list of social media secrets for GIS professionals including:
- Don’t think like government - consider the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Star Trek spoof.
- Find something hot and jump on it. SSA tapped the grumpy cat meme and used a cat to prompt seniors to log into its website. Some 170,000 people did in a month.
- Fema offered a zombie invasion-based campaign.
- Use Vine. (Never heard of it? Google it.)
- Use hashtags - and do Twitter advertising.
- Get a following for your organization, so when you need them to know things, such as in an emergency, they are already following you on Twitter or Facebook (and can tell their friends).
- Use LinkedIn - It has a new content strategy with influencers writing original content.
All of these examples were familiar to me not because I follow GIS in government or GovGirl, but because I heard them covered on a weekly podcast on communications: For Immediate Release. If that’s not your thing you can learn GovGirl’s secrets at GovGirl’s site.
Later in the day I learned about the challenges of communicating to potential team members the value of their contributions and the benefits they might receive by participating in organizations’ projects. Christina Boggs, California Department of Water Resources, Sacramento, CA shared here strategies:
- promise and deliver cupcakes (the presenters were vegan but not gluten free)
- offer snazzy buttons
- “Putting it [yourself] out there,” by networking via committees and lists, helping people with their problems solved, and get excited in order to get others excited about the projects at hand.
Chris Thomas highlighted how Esri Story Maps are tools of communication since they make broader, seemingly less personal stories more personal. His favorite Story Map included a map of the military banners in China Hill, CA. One soldier overseas saw his own banner while deployed. He bragged how a politician shared a Story Map detailing weird places in the Inland Empire (where Redlands, CA is located). He made clear however that these sorts of Story Maps are just the beginning of the Story Maps story; users are just getting familiar with what is currently possible. There is far more to come both in terms of features and how users tap into those features.
I’m sure I smiled the most during a montage of film and TV clips that detailed how GIS and other related technologies were portrayed in those media. Interspersed were key milestones in the history of GIS. This is one movie, from Gene Del Greco, KE McCartney & Associates Inc., everyone should make it a point to see. Sadly, due to potential legal challenges it’s not available on YouTube, but keep an eye out for it at a conference near you! Most represented were clips from James Bond movies, but I’d forgotten about examples from Star Trek, the Muppet Movie and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. These clips are a key way that the potential (real, imaged, ahead of or behind actual tech breakthroughs) of geospatial technology has been and will be shared with the public.
A panel on Women in GIS had quite a lot of suggestions and advice about communicating. Martha Wells, a former URISA president shared that her upbringing communicated “Anything is possible” to her. And, if you look at her resume, it clearly was! I advised that “everything was negotiable,” suggesting that if you can communicate your needs as an employee, it’s very possible to work out a solution with an employer. Christina Boggs noted that her early work in advocacy (aka communications!) helped her gain confidence in facing the rest of her career and her constant focus on asking questions and asking for help (aka communications) was key to her success. When recapping what URISA did well in supporting women (and frankly all members) well, the overall consensus was its ability to enable networking (aka communications)! Another theme that came up in the breakout groups was surrounding oneself with a positive and supportive community. Communities, of course, exist because of communications between the members (note how they have that same root - “common”).
The fact that my whole day was spent on this frankly meta-topic of communications speaks to the maturity of GIS and geospatial technologies. The geospatial community has the luxury at this point in time of having the tech tools to do the work. Thus, we have the time to consider exactly how to share information with citizens and each other. I ran into a second indicator of this milestone. Two different people “bragged” their organizations had recently hired a full-time communications/social media staffers.