StoryMap Guidance and Publication Requirements
ArcGIS StoryMaps are cloud-based, data presentation tools used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to communicate geospatial data in narrative format. Blending multi-media with map products, this tool leverages design features aimed at enhancing the access, understanding, and use of geographic information by Agency stakeholders. Developers can use StoryMaps to tell engaging stories with their data and tune their messaging for specific audiences.
StoryMaps are supported within the EPA’s branded ArcGIS Online environment, known as the EPA GeoPlatform Online (GPO), as well as the Data Management and Analytics Platform (DMAP) and regionally supported ArcGIS Enterprise Portals. They are provided as part of the EPA’s licensing agreement with Esri and follow the same sharing principles as other GPO content items, such as maps and web applications. They can be shared with individual groups, the Agency, or with the public.
This guidance specifically supports StoryMaps designed for public audiences, detailing key steps in both their development and approval. When designed for internal audiences, StoryMaps do not require the full review outlined below. Whether StoryMaps are intended for an internal or external audience, developers should adhere to best practices and accessibility requirements to the extent practicable. Consult your GIS Lead or Regional GIS Coordinator for more information, including how to maximize the accessibility of your StoryMap.
- When can I use a StoryMap?
- Designing a StoryMap for External Audiences
- Identifying a StoryMap Concept
- Concept Review
- Structuring a StoryMap
- Final Approval of Your StoryMap
- Maintaining Your StoryMap
StoryMaps are generally appropriate for projects where geographic perspectives are important for explaining a topic for a well-defined audience. Ideal use cases include cases studies, public health, and sampling projects where public outreach is critical.
StoryMaps are generally inappropriate for projects without a significant geospatial component and projects with otherwise limited original data.
Like all public web content at EPA, StoryMaps must be reviewed and approved before they are published. There are five steps in the StoryMap publication workflow:
Step 1: Identifying a StoryMap Concept
Step 2: Concept Review
Step 3: Structuring a StoryMap
- Define your audience and objectives.
- Organize content items and related data.
- Draft an engaging narrative.
- Create effective and accessible displays.
Step 4: Final Approval of your StoryMap
Step 5: Maintaining your StoryMap
If you are interested in developing a public-facing StoryMap, first contact your GIS Lead or Regional GIS Coordinator to discuss your StoryMap concept. Your lead or coordinator will evaluate if your data are sufficient, robust, and/or appropriate for display in a StoryMap. They will also provide you guidance on the time and effort it may take to produce a product that meets your desired specifications. Please refer to the EPA StoryMap Web Standard for minimum requirements.
Once you are ready to proceed, contact your Web Council Member. Your Web Council Member will ensure that your StoryMap concept aligns with the goals of your Region, AAship, Office, or Lab, and will authorize you to proceed. Concurrently, they will appraise your GIS Lead or Regional GIS Coordinator, Public Affairs Director(s) and/or Communications Director(s) on your concept, which may warrant further review. Please Note: Members of the EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) should first consult their lab’s Web and Communications lead before contacting their lab’s Web Council Member.
After your Web Council Member approves your concept, you are ready to submit an online StoryMap Approval Form to the Office of Web Communications (OWC). The StoryMap review may also include the Office of Public Affairs (OPA) senior management, but that is at the discretion of the primary OWC recipient of your request. OPA/OWC review and approval are necessary before proceeding. Please contact OWC if no message is received within a week. At this point, consider contacting your GeoPlatform Administrators as well for technical questions, training resources, and cartographic review.
EPA developers can access a blank StoryMap layout with EPA thematic elements applied within the GeoPlatform. Alternatively, Agency employees can follow these instructions to apply the Agency’s StoryMap theme to their StoryMaps. When writing text, additional considerations should made regarding:
To begin designing your StoryMap, please visit the EPA GeoPlatform and login using your LAN credentials. StoryMaps are accessible via the carton menu on the top right of the screen. EPA’s GeoResources Sharepoint site has several guides on how to navigate this environment, including resources related to web map design. Your GIS Lead or Regional GIS Coordinator can help you get started and will facilitate product publication.
The concept, audience, and scope of the overall StoryMap must be clearly defined so that you can establish a timeline and level of effort. During concept review, your Web Council Member can work with you to clarify the story you want to tell. Although the practical process of building a StoryMap is relatively simple, the other components—data processing and management in particular—can quickly balloon if aims and objectives are not properly defined from the start. Significant attention should also be paid to the overall look and feel of your StoryMap.
Knowing your audience is key. Who will gain the most value from your StoryMap? How much knowledge can you reasonably assume your target audience has about your given subject? If the audience is new to your topic, avoid jargon and keep the narrative focused at a high level. If the audience is made up of subject-matter experts, try not to bore them by restating basic principles.
Audience is the general public (broad)
Some StoryMaps will have general appeal and garner the interest of large and diverse populations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, a number of agencies published StoryMaps that bundled up relevant maps, dashboards, status updates, and media to convey essential public health information to the public.
Audience is a subset of the public (more specific)
Many StoryMaps will only be relevant to a small subset of the public but convey crucial information about the environment. The narrative format allows you to provide historical context for an issue, relevant activities, and important outcomes to enhance public knowledge and engagement on the subject. For example, the Carson River Mercury Superfund (CRMS) Site in Nevada has a long and well-documented history. An in-depth public StoryMap allowed EPA to provide historical context alongside extensive sampling data to help the public understand when and why to contact EPA about potential contamination in the vicinity.
Organize Content and Related Data
Display Accurate, Appropriate and Authoritative Data
Your GIS Lead or Regional Coordinator will help you determine what Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA/QC) work needs to go into your data before it can be used in a StoryMap. This includes detailed metadata for your geospatial products. Depending on who collected or processed your data, its metadata will most likely vary widely in completeness and quality. Your GIS Lead or Regional Coordinator will help you clean up your data and metadata and ensure that it complies with Agency guidance and standards.
Project-specific data (needs QA/QC)
This type of data requires the most effort and review from your GIS Lead or Regional Coordinator, but often results in a rich and useful dataset that can be incorporated into future projects beyond the scope of a StoryMap. Your lead or coordinator will need to conduct extensive QA/QC on each data layer to ensure that they comply with Agency guidelines and to prepare them for potential public release.
EPA maintains an extensive collection of authoritative data layers that can quickly be pulled into any map product, including StoryMaps. Shared Enterprise Geodata & Services, or SEGS, is the Agency curated collection of geospatial data with national extents or national relevance. Since these dataset are managed by EPA, they require minimal additional effort to incorporate into your map products.
Using data sources hosted externally (e.g., web map services) requires the least amount of effort on our part. The GIS Lead or Regional GIS Coordinator has access to an extensive catalog of data and can help. you identify what you need. If there are data out there, your leads will find it for you.
The EPA Office of Multimedia hosts a media gallery that contains free and approved content for use in StoryMaps. To use your own media or content provided by EPA affiliates please submit the following forms:
- Content Consent Form for people appearing in the photos.
- Content License Form for photos from a third party for EPA use, which must be signed by the copyright holder of the image.
Create Items and Maps with the Future in Mind
Public-facing StoryMaps will likely include geographic information that will need to be updated and refreshed. Based on Agency experiences, planning your data at this stage will save your teams both time and money in the long run. For example, consider working with the National Geospatial Support Team to fashion hosted feature services as opposed to creating feature collections. When in doubt, start by planning your project and engaging you GIS Lead or Regional GIS Coordinator.
Leverage Folders in 'My Content' to Organize Items
Utilize the 'My Content' folder functionality to store project-specific content items. Consider using explicit naming conventions for project folders, like '2021 - StoryMap Inauguration', which allows you to sort by year, application time, and title. In our experience, folks typically put everything in their 'root folder', mixed in with several other items. This makes it difficult to tease out which content items are part of a specific StoryMap. In the end, the folder should only contain the items that are active parts of the StoryMap (i.e. delete or move all temporary or unnecessary items).
Share Content Items in Project Group with Update Capabilities Enabled
If a StoryMap involves a team of several developers, it can be helpful to share the content items in a project group with update capability enabled. That group must be owned by an Administrators or someone with an advanced role in the GeoPlatform (EPA Power User). Once shared, group members may all edit the items shared to the group. This helps when the owner of an item is off work (on vacation, etc.) and content needs to be updated ASAP.
Share Final Products with Administrative Accounts
Several Regions, Offices, and AAships have created generic accounts that own public-facing products. This way the StoryMap and its constituent items aren’t owned by a single individual. This is certainly not mandatory, but it may help some teams. Organizing data also makes it easier for administrators to review your data for public release and saves time and money in through time.
Draft an Engaging Narrative
Once you have organized your content items, you should work with both your GIS Lead or Regional Coordinator and Web Council member to draft an engaging narrative. Think about the most important message you’d like to get across if the reader only recalls one or two things from your story, then be strict about keeping those few takeaways at the center of your work, calling back to them in the narrative whenever possible.
If your subject matter is extensive and you do not think you can avoid a large and detailed story, consider splitting it up into smaller manageable sections, organized by common themes. For example, if your StoryMap is about a large sampling study carried out at a historical site, you will want to consider separate sections for the background history and modern sampling strategy. OPA and the Web Council are responsible for reviewing text content and messaging, which may require multiple rounds of refinement.
Again, and per the StoryMap Web Standard, the geographic information and related content should be focal point(s) of your StoryMap. Through the products, your viewers make connections between the narrative text and the real world. In general, always strive for simplicity and use cartographic best practices. Your GIS coordinators and leads as well as GPO Administrator will help you organize and curate your content to best communicate your important points to the target audience.
Create Effective and Accessible Displays
Public-facing StoryMaps must meet Section 508 accessibility requirements to the extent possible and practicable, though some exclusions may apply. While EPA has granted an undue burden waiver that covers GeoPlatform, Agency developers are still expected to apply best practices that maximize accessibility of GeoPlatform content items, including StoryMaps. The Agency’s Section 508 Procedure outlines these key considerations.
Consider Color and Contrast
Members of your target audiences may have visual impairments that make it difficult to discern colors and text in your StoryMap and related content items. For example, certain color schemes can be used to ensure that text is readable by audience with color blindness or other vision-related disabilities. Learn more about color use in data visualization. Several tools can be used to develop and test color and contrast:
- EPA Global Color Guide, the Agency’s standard color palate.
- ColorBrewer, an online tool that allows you to test out color palettes to maximize data communication.
- WAVE Evaluation Tool, a Google Chrome extension that tests for color contrast and other accessibility requirements. StoryMaps should strive to meet the color contrast ratio for federal webpage, which is 5:1 or higher.
Choose Context-appropriate Basemaps
Esri provides several basemaps within ArcGIS Online which are further supplemented by options both at the EPA-organizational level and within the Esri Living Atlas. Basemaps are available in the GeoPlatform as well as the Esri Living Atlas. When displaying geographic data in a StoryMap, developers should consider basemaps that best communicates data, consider Section 508 rules, and adhere to the Agency’s cartographic style and standards.
In general, “Light Gray Canvas” and “Terrain with Labels” are recommended for StoryMaps. These vector basemaps provide low content, low saturation conditions for vector data (i.e., qualitative/quantitative points, lines and polygons) that are not met by raster basemap alternatives. It is important to consider symbology that meets color contrast recommendations. Though Earth Imagery is popular in the environmental sector, non-imagery basemaps are often preferred for most datasets.
Enable Flexible Sorting
Use multiple cues rather than relying on color alone to differentiate point, line, and polygon features when appropriate and possible (i.e., flexible sorting). If the locations or facilities shown on your map fall into different classes (e.g., locations of different types of federal cleanups, different types of media), then the pushpins, flags or other identifying markers should not rely solely on color to tell the difference between the types of data presented. The markers should also rely on shape to distinguish the different locations, types of results, or facilities. Alternatively, you can have them rely solely on color if you also provide a way to filter the map so only markers of one color are displayed. See the Well Class tab on the Aquifer Exemptions map for an example of this filtering.
Embed Alternative Text (AltText)
Alternative Text (AltText) is used within HTML code to describe the appearance and function of a webpage element. Adding AltText ensures accessibility for folks who cannot visually process the element. AltText for images does not need to be a literal description, but can instead be used to convey supplemental tone or meaning that sighted users might infer naturally. Learn more from Esri tutorials and W3C programs like Writing for Web Accessibility and Image Concepts.
Provide Text Equivalent of Information
Visitors who rely on screen-readers and/or have visual impairments may not be able to discern the information that a map or interactive feature provides to sighted readers. Section 508 requires that we provide equivalent information in a way that is accessible to all.
To provide this equivalent information:
- Provide a link just below or to the left or right of the map that goes directly to the equivalent information, i.e., the raw data underlying the link.
- This information should be in an Excel table or other format capable of being read by a screen reader.
- If the information is located in a source file other than an HTML file, indicate the file extension (PDF, DOC, etc.) after the link, following EPA standards.
Logo & Web Style
Only products coming from the EPA Administrator’s Office may use the Seal of the EPA. Other products, like Hub Sites, must use the EPA Logo. The EPA Blue Logo is preferred for ArcGIS StoryMaps. Download the EPA logo. Depending on the StoryMap theme or purposes, however, an alternate color may be used pending review. Additional information on when the seal or logo should be used are available in the EPA Communications Stylebook. Developers are recommended to leverage general icons in Font Awesome, because this service lets you modify icon color.
Include a Web Survey
The first step when including a survey is to get an Information Collection Request. Survey123 tools can be integrated into StoryMaps, allowing users to collect and analyze responses from both stakeholders and user communities. ForeSee web surveys use the methods of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), an economic indicator that measures the satisfaction of consumers across the United States. Many local, state, and federal agencies use ForeSee Web surveys, which allow them to benchmark the customer satisfaction of government websites in relative terms. Through ForeSee, EPA Web staff can access a variety of standard and custom reports. Staff can also analyze the raw data with powerful tools available in the ForeSee Analytic Portal. Learn more here.
Track Audience Statistics
EPA's Google Analytics Standard ID is UA-32633028-1. In a future, EPA 'theme', we hope to embed this ID automatically. By doing this, developers can search for a StoryMap’s ID within the EPA's Google Analytics subscription. Please note the EPA gets data from anyone that embeds that property ID (and the Google Analytics or GTM code) on their site. There is no white list or "approved domain list" in Google Analytics, but folks can get access to the data by following these directions. Additional Google Analytics information are provided on the Agency’s intranet. There are filters in place to limit Google Analytics use. For example, EPA Web Services must add a host name to blacklist to filter it out.
Consider Social Media
Social media can be easily integrated into StoryMaps. EPA uses social media applications and platforms to share official information with a wide audience on web-based networks that people trust. Social media is an effective way for the agency to reach people and fulfill its mission to educate and inform the public about protecting human health and the environment. When displaying social media sites, it is important to consider the EPA’s Office of Multimedia social media policies and procedures, and Section 508 rules. Guidance for individual platforms is provided by the Office of Web Communications.
Embedding External Sites
Esri provides the flexibility to link to and embed other websites, both internal and external to the EPA. When displaying embedded web sites in a StoryMap, developers must consider Section 508 rules and adhere to agency web standard and policies. External sites are defined as connections to any website not under the control of EPA or another federal government agency. When linking to an external website, users must follow web policy and procedure. This includes but is not limited to the Exit EPA icon and must support EPA’s mission. Embedded features also known as iframes allow users to embed videos, documents, maps, and more in the. When using iframes, it is important to consider limiting the number per web page. Having more than one can compromise the performance of the page by slowing the response time.
StoryMaps, like all other new web content, must go through the appropriate reviews before they can be published. Use of the EPA StoryMap theme is strongly encouraged to help ensure that required elements are included in your StoryMap.
Final StoryMap Approval
- Submit the StoryMap link to your Web Council member,Public Affairs Director and/or Communications Director. If you are in an ORD lab, contact your lab's web and communications lead before you submit the draft for review.
- Once your Web Council member and Public Affairs Director/Communications Director have reviewed and approved, you should notify OPA/OWC via the StoryMap Approval form to seek their final review.
- OPA/OWC will review your StoryMap and email you with any comments, CC:ing your Web Council member and at least one of your Geoplatform Administrators. You should typically receive this email within a week. Please contact the Office of Web Communication (OWC) if you do not receive a reply to your review request within a week.
- OPA/OWC will review your StoryMap for the following:
- Ensure that it supports the goals of the current administration
- Adherence to the StoryMap requirements on this page
- Adherence to EPA Web Standards
- Section 508 compliance requirements for StoryMaps
- Once OWC's comments have been incorporated, let OWC know.
- Once OPA/OWC has performed their final review you are ready to publish! Please contact one or more of your Geoplatform Administrators who will ensure that all the components of your product (StoryMap, web map, feature layers, etc.) include the standard metadata described in the EPA Style Guide for Documenting GeoPlatform Online Content Items and they will guide you through the mechanics of making items public.
The content of StoryMaps must be maintained and kept up to date just like any other EPA web content.
- StoryMaps are subject to review schedule for public EPA web content as outlined in EPA's Procedure: Web Content Types and Review.
- Please be sure to maintain your map and webpage so that it continues to be useful and relevant to your audience.
- As with all EPA public web content, StoryMaps should be unpublished when they cease to be useful or relevant.
- There is no way to archive StoryMaps at this time.