DemLabs blog

Dangerous creatures hide and thrive in swamps.

It isn't easy to understand what goes on in swamps - real or political. Details are concealed. Motivations are masked. People have short attention spans. Memes and videos are often inadequate to explain an issue.

What's needed is an easy-to-use, affordable way to explain an issue and connect different threads on it into a simple narrative. Readers have to get enough information to become engaged, but not so much that they get lost.

ArcGIS StoryMaps is a free app that lets complex issues be described as interactive stories that are easy to understand and share with others. An advocacy group working on immigration policies uses StoryMaps to explain how corporate profits and lobbying are fueling the growth of private ICE detention centers.

Consider how StoryMaps could be applied for your cause!

The power of storytelling
"Stories are how we think. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions..." explains Psychology Today
Too much information, however makes it hard to identify the root cause of an issue. Digital stories cut through the clutter to make things understandable. They condense complex issues into a simple narrative with context and encourage readers to explore further for more details.  This StoryMap, for instance explains the relationship between corporate profits, lobbying and privately operated ICE detention facilities. ( It explains:1. How private ICE detention centers cost more than those operated by the government
2. The growth of GEO Group and its CEO's political contributions
3. The location of ICE detention centers and conditions at each site
4. Which firms invest in the corporations operating ICE detention centers
5. Groups advocating for humane and better immigration policiesThe StoryMap uses publicly available information with links for readers to get more information. It incorporates images, videos and maps into a single narrative.
Visualize data

A map showing the ICE detention centers was designed with ArcGIS using publicly available information. It shows the type of ICE detention centers, the number of beds and when they were last inspected. It shows the average number of detainees medical personnel at each facility. The Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Florida for instance, has 668 detainees on average with 21 medical personnel.

This map ( is one part of a bigger story. It is included in the StoryMap which provides a fuller overview of the private detention center boom. The map and StoryMap can be used independently or together. This map of detention centers can be freely used in other stories and websites on ICE detention centers.

Making it easy to distribute and understand
StoryMaps have several benefits:
1. The app is free which makes making it accessible to even the smallest group.
2. They can be easily read on laptops or a phone (as shown below).
3. The content of a StoryMap can be revised with new details at any time.
4. Stories can be shared as a link on social media or easily embedded into websites.
5. StoryMaps incorporate different forms of content including images, maps and videos.

It's important to expose what goes on in a swamp, especially when tax payer money is used to boost corporate profits. ArcGIS StoryMaps is a free, powerful tool to explain issues and advocate for change. Learn more about how to use it here.

Co-Founder, DemLabs

Please share this article. Democracy Labs is a SF-based, hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation for progressives campaigns and advocacy groups. Donate here to support our work.

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DemLabs applies innovative technology and storytelling tools in service of democratic values. It lowers the barrier of funding for worthy candidates and non-profits by applying existing free/affordable solutions.