[Image courtesy of MapBox.com]

I recently had the opportunity to attend NetSquared DC’s meet up on modern mapping and new data visualizations.  The focus of the event was to provide non-profit organizations with tips on how to use open source mapping tools to promote their mission, so there was considerable overlap with the work Beekeeper Group does in the advocacy community.

Here are some of the key takeaways I had from the meet up:

  1. You don’t need a technical or GIS background to use many open source mapping tools.  This highlights the accessibility of these technologies, even for smaller organizations.  Map Box, with the TileMill application, is one example of these easier open source mapping programs.
  2. One of the worst mistakes a group can make when using a map is “polka dot fever,” where a map is filled with data points with little or no context.  Think about the end goal of your map before you make it, and use visual tools that will best tell that story to your audience.
  3. Mapping is a great way to make quantitative data visual, personal, and relevant. Danny Harris’s work in using maps for storytelling at People’s District is a great example of this practice.
  4. Make sure your maps can go mobile!  Since many of your users will access maps on an Android, iPhone, or iPad, it is crucial that your maps are designed to respond to various devices.  When creating a mobile map, prioritize speed, bandwidth detection, and ensure that the touch interface is functional.

For inspiration on how to create an awesome map for your organization, the presenters recommended books such as Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and online resources like Visualize This.  Since I’m a bit of a map nerd myself, also I think blogs such as Big Map Blog and Strange Maps can provide unique inspiration.

Has your organization ever leveraged maps for an advocacy campaign or cause?  What recommendations would you add for others who are interested in using cartography within their organizations?