Creating an electronic map of your region can be a useful exercise, both for the process and the final product. If you’re anything like me, having a visual representation of geographical boundaries and contacts is a lot easier to digest than a written description or list. Whether you’re trying to get your head around a new area or you already know an area well, creating a map can be a handy way to organise your information.
Why make a map?
Anyone who is new to the regional communication service might just be a bit overwhelmed with the sheer amount of area you need to cover. Not to mention the number of organisations, residential units, day services and other contacts you’re expected to know about and make contact with. Even people who have been in their role for some time may find that their information can go out of date quicker than expected. A mapping activity is a good way to get your head around this and maintain current information.
When I was given the task of mapping my region, I began by creating a series of simple lists. However, I found that information lacked meaning, as I am a visual learner and had limited knowledge of my region (I didn’t even know the council boundaries). I soon realised that it would be so much easier if I could see where these arbitrary addresses were in relation to each other and the general region. I wanted be able to draw each council region on a map and auto populate all the addresses on my list onto that map. After a quick Google search, I found there were many programs that allow you to do just that:
There are lots of benefits to creating an electronic map. If you’ve got to work within geographical boundaries, like suburbs or council regions, simply tracing the outline of those boundaries can be a good first step. You can get your bearings and be more likely to remember what streets are the boundaries and what landmarks fall within the area.
You can also import a list of contacts such as day and accommodation services, disability services and other speech pathologists that might work in your area. The program can automatically place a pin at the right addresses. Having this visual representation of where each contact lies is great – you can note any clustering, organise meetings to travel efficiently and easily see which catchments things are in. You can even map a route from one location to another.
How do you create one?
First things first – use an Excel spreadsheet (or similar) to list your information. Use subheadings like name, address and phone number to organise the material. In fact, even if you don’t want to make a map, you should still do this. Having information in Excel (instead of, say Word) makes it so much easier to be organised. You can have different pages to separate lists, quickly and easily sort information on a page, use formatting tools to create obvious visual categories (e.g. cell changes colour based on what organisation it is, or if a certain date has passed) and, importantly for this topic, save in a format that can be used in map making websites.
Once you have a list saved in the right format, you can import it into one of many free or paid map creator programs. There are plenty available on the internet – just Google ‘map creator’ to find some different options. Each program has similar, but different features – you might need to try a few to find the one that suits you. The one I used to make the above map is called “Click2Map”. Each program will have a different way to draw shapes and import your information, so have a glance at the instructions if you’re not sure. If in doubt, Google will probably answer any questions you have.
– Katrina McNamee