Mapping it forward: Training others in your organisation to use Google Geo tools

Posted on October 20th, 2011 in General,Google Geo Tool Blog Series,Google Geo Tools,Workshops by Alta

After our Google Geo tool workshop in Arusha earlier this year, there was one question nearly all participants asked us in their feedback: could we come and train others at their institutions?  That was, in fact, the question that prompted us to write this blog series – we love trainings and meeting new people doing great work in conservation, but of course it’s not possible to go to every conservation organisation to run them.

The good news is that there is a wealth of training resources that can help you put together a training for your colleagues and collaborators. So, whether  you are trying to improve skills in your organisation, have a mapping or visualisation project that you need to collaborate on or are that person your department  tired of doing things that you know your colleagues should be doing themselves, this post is for you!

Getting up to speed yourself

It goes without saying that you need to be familiar with the materials you intend to train others on.  If you’re reading this post, you may already be familiar with one or more of the Google mapping tools, but may be unsure whether you’ve covered all the bases necessary for your training. Luckily, whether you are a seasoned GIS pro /tech wiz or someone whose technical capabilities extent to operating a kettle, this knowledge is both easy to find and practice.

In-person trainings

Arguably the best way to get up to speed with Google Geo tools is to be trained by others – this is, after all, why you’re thinking of training others in your organisation and not pointing them to online tutorials.

Attending training before attempting to train others will give you a feel for the kind of workshop you’ll be looking to run, the pace of exercises you’re likely to do, and the kind of questions people are likely to ask.  You’ll also be able to access to trainers whose experiences may help guide you in planning your training.

If you’re really fortunate, you may find yourself able to attend a workshop (like this one held in Vancouver, Canada recently) organised and ran by Google Earth Outreach. These trainings  are highly-practical and cover the widest range of topics you’re likely to come across – and you’ll have true experts on hand to answer your questions. To make sure that you don’t miss announcements on upcoming trainings, subscribe to the Google Earth Outreach announcement group, or follow them on Twitter.

Other organisations that are not affiliated with Google (like us) also run Google Geo trainings, more geared towards specific groups, goals or projects.  These trainings may cover a selection of topics, including Google EarthGoogle MapsFusion TablesOpen Data KitGoogle Map Maker,  SketchUp and Google Geo APIs, and may even include trainings on other Google Apps – there should be something out there for you.

MAPA’s workshops in South Africa cover Google Earth, Google Maps, Fusion Tables and ODK, occasionally Google Map Maker, as well as the use of our conservation map. We’ve hosted trainings in the Western Cape, and Tanzania, and are about to run another training in Johannesburg in November. Applications for that are now closed, but if you have a need to attend one of these for the purposes of training others, contact us, and we will try and make a space for you or at least add you to the waiting list.

Our first mini-workshop at the University of Cape Town in 2010

Other organisations in other part of the world do similar trainings to us. A great example is the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, who have just hosted a training for the their organisation and collaborators. In their training they covered Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Maps API. A great example of training others within a group collaborating towards a common goal is the Citizen Mapper site. For slightly different approaches to training within a single organization (for those of you looking to train within  a more educational setting), have a look at the KCK Saturday Academy site (integrating Google Geo tool trainings in a high-school leadership training programme) and the Desktop Mapping site at Eastern Washington’s University online GIS certificate programme.

Online tutorials and user guides

If it’s not possible for you to attend in-person training, there is still a wealth of helpful materials to help you acquire the necessary knowledge.  Most of what you’re likely to need for getting yourself up to speed on various mapping tools you’ll find on the Google Earth Outreach tutorial page, the Fusion Table tutorial page, and theGoogle Earth user-guide.  You may also wish to have a look at the Google MapMakerpedia site (MapMakerpedia is a new crowsdsourced guide for Google Map Maker that features lessons, articles, and tutorials), the SketchUp self-paced tutorials or if you’re looking to be more technical, the KML tutorial for developers and Maps API tutorial.

Rather than blindly starting at one end and working your way through the tutorials, it may help you to use Google Earth Outreach’s trainers’ materials (more on that below) to work through these resources within a structure that you can then use to train others.

Training Others

Within your organisation or institution, you may have quite specific training requirements. Perhaps you’re only interested in teaching your colleagues about Google Earth, or you may want to collaborate on a Fusion Table or Google Map. Whatever the case may be, chances are that the best place to start will be at Google Earth Outreach’s trainer’s corner.

The trainer’s corner is a collection of training resources  specifically aimed at organisations’ and institutions interested in training people in the public benefit sector in using Google Mapping tools.

In the trainer’s corner, you’ll find suggested agendas for different length and types of workshops, a list of training videos and links to them, links to Google Geo-related resources and articles,  and the option to request training materials.  Upon requesting this material, Outreach will send you a training pack, comprising  Power Point slides for use with your training, technique tours in Google Earth, a workbook that you can share with your participants, and your guide through this material and an incredibly useful preparation tool: the trainer’s script.


A screenshot from the trainer's script.

Even if you’ve never run a training of any kind before, the trainer’s script is a pretty fail-proof way of planning your training. It will help you think about the resources and preparation time you need for your trainings,  set the pace of your workshop, and will give you a really good idea of what to cover and how to deliver it.  Even if you have to go off script and adapt topics for your specific organisation or project, working through the training script upfront will install a framework to hang these off that are almost guaranteed to achieve success.

By requesting training material and delivering a workshop you will also have the option of joining the trainer’s forum, a group where trainers get to share their experiences and resources and ask their questions.  If you join the forum you will also receive announcements about Google product launches and updates, Google Earth Outreach training materials and learn about best practices and tips for training in Google mapping tools.

A really nice compliment to the trainer’s corner (depending on the topics that you’re interested in covering) is the Fusion Table trainer siteMap Makerpedia tutorials, the Map your world community siteSketchUp’s Trainer page, and the Google Earth for Educators page. Like the trainers corner, these websites offer curriculums, presentations, tutorials and instructions for hosting a training and/or Map Maker Party.

It may also be really helpful to have a look at the workshop sites of organisations and groups (like the ones we mentioned earlier in the post) to get a feel for the kind of material that would suit your organisation and purpose. Have a look, for example, as Google Earth Outreach’s IGG and Vancouver training sites, our Western Cape and Arusha workshop sites, the Golden Gate National Parks conservancy training site, the Citizen Mapper site and the Desktop Mapping page we mentioned earlier.

We hope that this blog post will help you think of how to go about teaching your colleagues and collaborators in making the most of Google’s free and easy mapping tools. If you would like to talk to us about trainings, feel free to contact us at – we’d love to help as far as we can, hear about your next training and would love to learn from you too!


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Important Bird Areas are on the map!

Posted on October 6th, 2011 in Featured Conservation,General,New Content by Alta

On our map, you’ll find a few different “categories” of conservation activities. There are the green hands that show protected areas, the orange blobs that highlight conservation blogs, and the blue Ps that denote conservation projects. And then there are critical habitats.

Critical habitats are areas like biodiversity hotspots, endemic bird areas, global200 ecoregions and Ramsar wetlands, and are represented on the map by the logo of the organisation that is chiefly responsible for defining, monitoring and sometimes implementing these areas.

Sometimes these areas span entire provinces, sometimes they’re the size of a small wetland.  Some of them overlap with protected areas, but often times, they’re entirely unprotected. Different critical habitats are defined by applying different measures of biodiversity richness and focus on different ecological aspects, but in identifying them, conservation scientists and organisations have a common goal: ensure that we protect as much as possible of our natural heritage by prioritising areas that are particularly species rich and valuable.

BirdLife International’s important bird areas programme is no different in this respect, and with more than 10, 000 sites identified worldwide, it plays a pivotal role in directing global conservation effort,  and not only those efforts focused on looking after feathered creatures.


A map showing all Africa's IBAs. Download the IBA-only map below or visit our conservation map to explore them in context.

Officially, an important bird area is an area that hold significant numbers of one or more threatened species, is one of a set of sites that together hold a suite of restricted range or biome-restricted species, or hosts exceptionally large numbers of migratory or congregatory species. When it comes to IBAs, size does matter! They need to big enough to matter, small enough to be able to be conserved in their entirety.

This is particularly important for sites that are not yet protected, and whose designation as an IBA help the conservationists who work in these areas petition their improved petition status. In Angola, for example, conservation scientists are currently petitioning the Angolan government to declare the Mount Moco IBA  a special reserve, an action that will help protect some of Angola’s last remaining Afromontane forest patches, and the rare and specialized birds that depend on them.

As of this week, you can see important bird areas on MAPA’s  searchable African conservation map, as well as on our Google Earth map. Find out where these areas are, what it is that makes them special and what bird species you can find there.  Each site links to the detailed important bird area fact sheet (like this one, for Mount Moco), where you can find out even more about specific sites.  If you would like to see a map of only IBAs,  you can download a Google layer of that here. We hope you enjoy exploring!

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