Storytelling with Maps at Esri’s FedGIS Conference

“A big change has been happening under our feet, using services to integrate data dynamically as digital dial tones,” said Esri founder and president Jack Dangermond sharing his vision at the Opening Session of FedGIS. “We can read data from many sources and share it through the cloud to collaborate in new ways. The concept of spatial infrastructure has been around for years. There is a revolution now with how easy it is to share information through services.”

The annual conference in Washington DC hosts government thought leaders, innovators in GIS technology, and experts in many more fields. Dangermond elaborated on the Science of Where, explaining that the science of geography combined with the technology of GIS can be applied to create a more sustainable future. He went on to explain how the availability of data on distributed systems will revolutionize the ways governments make decisions and collaborate.

“We can bring data together, mash it up, and create new understanding,” said Dangermond. “It’s available to everyone in an organization through simple maps on any device. at the high-end, it engages data scientists who apply analytics to drive policy planning and decision making. Distributed systems weave together information across individuals, teams, departments and organizations as well as between local, regional, national and global governments.”

Another highlight of the conference was the Young Professionals Network luncheon, which occurred the first day of the conference. National Geographic’s Vice President of Media Innovation, Kaitlin Yarnell, talked about the importance of crafting a visual story, the impact it can have on one’s career, and its ability to influence within an organization. “When you have a complex story to tell it’s important to break it down in to smaller parts and figure out how to use visuals to make the story more compelling and memorable,” said Yarnell. “Thinking visually helps to see what parts of the story are most important and how to best tell them.” She also took the attendees through the story of how her own role as a cartographer for National Geographic evolved into her status as a well-known and highly respected thought leader in geography worldwide.

Yarnell then shared how National Geographic needed to evolve to reach a new audience with a complex story. To rise to this challenge, she explained that they couldn’t just rely on one channel, but rather needed to take risks and pursue an approach that included a collection of integrated formats; a creative dubstep inspired video, compelling photography, a graphic novel element, and interactive web content. In the end, the approach worked, and Yarnell’s team successfully pushed beyond traditional boundaries by connecting National Geographic with their new and younger target audience while also telling an important, complex, and compelling scientific story.


“The Wednesday Keynote Plenary featured a discussion between Esri founder and president Jack Dangermond and Sue Gordon, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence.”


To wrap up the session, the luncheon’s organizer, Corianne Jones sat down with Yarnell to chat about what she has learned from building her team and developing her career, and Yarnell had the following advice for the young professionals present on growing their careers:

  • Know your strengths. Experiment with many things early on in your career, but once you find what you’re good at, focus on it and use those unique talents to stand out from others.
  • Have a personal 30 second elevator speech. Always be ready to quickly share your personal mission, your work, or what your most passionate about and why.
  • Sketch out what you’re doing before starting projects. Instead of diving right into digital tools, use simple tools to start brainstorming, like paper and sharpie, and map out your ideas.

Finally, Jones asked what Yarnell looked for in job candidates when hiring: “I look for passion. If someone is passionate about a hobby or other areas besides design, like running marathons or publishing their own blog, I usually ask them more about those type of things. I love learning more about those ‘side interests’ in candidates because it helps me gauge their passion and it demonstrates their level of dedication and determination. And together those elements show me that they truly care about they what they’re doing in life and work, and that type of passion usually means that they have the capacity to deliver great contributions on my team.”

For those in attendance, it was an inspiring glimpse into the mind of a truly innovative professional that takes Jack Dangermond’s passion for the importance of telling a story with maps to heart. Everyone at this year’s FedGIS left with a renewed understanding and enthusiasm for the power of location intelligence, and the ways it can transform decision-making at all levels of the federal government.

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