After a year-and-a-half of work, four road trips, and thousands of mile in her car, Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) Community Relations Planner Monica Van der Vieren created three story maps that promote bison and prairie conservation: On the Trail of the North American Buffalo.
Along the way, Monica’s ESJ training at King County helped her to recognize the opportunity to reshape the narrative of the contributions of North American native peoples to bison recovery after near extermination.
“I had a truly transformative moment on the road. After five years of hearing the same bison rescue story, I bought a book that described the critical contributions of a few native peoples. Their story is largely left out of the bison recovery narrative,” Monica said.
“I felt an obligation to research this and tell this story. My ESJ training at King County has really increased my awareness of how we talk about others. Then, I attended an interpretation conference and heard a tribal panel call out the problem of “historic erasure,” Monica said. “The bison recovery story was a perfect example of how we just remove under-represented peoples from history, as if they never existed. North American tribes are still making a difference for bison today.”
After working on the project for eight months, Monica submitted her story to ESRI’s Story Map Gallery, which receives 2,000 submissions per week. On the same day, ESRI featured her story on their home page. ESRI promoted it on their social media, and continues to share it now that it has cycled into the gallery.
“ESRI features stories that are unique and high quality on their home page. Posting my story is a testament that I can tell a good story in this platform,” Monica said.
“Being featured in the gallery also gets this different perspective on North American history shared across the world.” Monica says her story was shared even by ESRI Deutschland and “rewilding Europe” groups.
GIS Specialist Shaun O’Neil volunteered his time outside of work to create a series of maps illustrating the arrival of bison in North America. Shaun and Monica are working to bring lessons learned back to King County. Shaun has already created a way for non-GIS communicators and reviewers to access the platform. Their next step is to adapt processes so County communicators can translate story maps for our diverse communities.
The Story Map platform is a powerful tool that uses multimedia content to engage broad audiences and tell compelling stories. “After working on the SoundGuardian story map, I felt it had a lot of potential for King County to tell personal, place-based stories,” Monica said.
Monica is taking what she’s learned and applying to tell the stories of capital improvement projects she supports in WTD. She is also sharing resources with her colleagues that are interested in adding this platform to their toolkit.
“I am sharing tools and templates to help with the storytelling piece and best practices for the design element,” Monica said. “Visual storytelling is where communications is going, and we have great stories to tell throughout DNRP.”