Pre-Workshop Assignment

Pre-Workshop Assignment

The Assignment



  1. GIS
  2. Readings
  3. Science Communication
  4. Thinking About Data
  5. Workshop Challenge Questions


IAN Conceptual Diagramming

As part of the Pre-Workshop Assignments, students will be asked to create a diagram depicting a local environmental problem near their home. The students will be using the IAN Diagramming tool, provided by the Integration and Application Network through the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The students will learn how diagramming can be used as an effective tool for communicating scientific information to the public. The tool can be accessed here: (Note: The tool only works with Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.)


QGIS is an Open Source Geographic Information System (GIS) that will be used by the participants of the FED Workshop. To learn more about QGIS, or to download the software, please visit the QGIS website:

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  1. Install QGIS: Course software will include an open source (free) application called QGIS. Navigate your browser to the following URL to download the application files:
  2. Download preparatory materials: Download ZIP files using the link provided in the e-mail.
  3. Next, extract the ZIP file onto your hard disk. Make sure the files are extracted in a manner that preserves the directory structure given below:
    • GIS Data
    • Raster
      • National Land Cover Dataset (NLCD) for 2006
    • Vector
      • Potomac Watershed with subwatersheds
      • County boundary file with selected census data
  4. Familiarize yourself with QGIS: Load the provided data layers into QGIS, and try the zoom, information tool, symbology, and other tools demonstrated during the webinar.

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There are 5 subjects of readings: (GIS – Data, Ecosystem Services, Human Dimensions, Project Background, and Science communication), each include required and recommended readings.

All of the required readings should be read before you arrive at the workshop. The recommended readings are provided to give a more detailed understanding of the topics. For participants who are not as familiar with certain topics, it is suggested that you read all readings for that topic.

Set of Readings

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Tell a story about a local environmental challenge. Select any environmental challenge that you are already familiar with, and perhaps on that is relevant to your local area.Use the IAN Conceptual Diagram Creator ( to tell a story about environmental challenges facing your local/regional ecosystem (wildfire, floods, drought, pink bark beetles, invasive plants, invasive aquatic species, etc) and how humans have been impacted.

  1. To do so, you must first create a free account by following the link above, and then clicking on the “IAN” button. This will bring up the log-in screen and allow you to register for the image library that will allow you to access the library images of landscapes, organisms, etc.
  2. Please visit the blog post where there are instructions and a video tutorial:
  3. If you have technical questions about the tool, post them to the discussion forum at,601.0html.
  4. The IAN tool works best on Firefox, Chrome, or Safari, do not use Internet Explorer. Remember to save your diagram to your local media before quitting the drawing tool. Images are saved by default in the SVG format (your files will have an “.SVG” extension) so that the objects from the image library (e.g. landscape cutaways, organisms, equipment, etc) within the diagram can be edited later.

Developing your conceptual diagram

The instructions below are taken from a posting developed by Bill Dennison, and can be found at: Use this exercise to develop an engaging and informative conceptual diagram.

  1. Identify your audience and medium:
  2. Develop issues statement:
  3. Prioritize the key features:
  4. Identify and prioritize the major drivers:
  5. Develop a short list of symbols:
  6. Choose a base and style:
  7. Write a legend:

Conceptual diagram worksheet

The purpose of this worksheet is to develop the message and the science communication style for a conceptual diagram.

  1. Define a) the target audience: e.g, interested public, students, resource managers, scientists (more than one type of audience can be targeted) and b) the medium in which this diagram will be used(e.g., written report, web page, science communication product)
  2. Develop issue statement: Write one simple, declarative sentence (active title) that answers the following question: What is the main message?, or put another way,What is the take home message?
  3. Prioritize the key features: List the features needed to describe your message e.g., major habitats or structures (structure), important linkages or pathways (function). Prioritization is needed because only the top 3–7 features can be included on any one conceptual diagram.
  4. Identify and prioritize the major drivers: List the drivers or threats that will be depicted on the conceptual diagram (forcing function). Prioritization is needed because only the top 1–5drivers/threats can be included on any one conceptual diagram
  5. Develop a short list of symbols: List the symbols that will enhance the audience’s ability to understand the location and context of the conceptual diagram. Symbols can represent various species of plants and animals or they could be human–built structures. The IAN symbol and image libraries could be a source of inspiration for this symbol list, but new symbols may be needed.
  6. Choose a base and style: Consider the message, available space, and appropriate context (within the document or medium in which the conceptual diagram will appear). Note: this may take some experimentation. There are three major types of bases: 2–dimensional cross sections, 3–dimensional oblique, and map bases which can be plain view or oblique aerial. Mirror diagrams can be used to focus on comparisons. The color schemes on the bases are important in terms of communication effectiveness. Again, the IAN image and symbol libraries could be a source of inspiration for bases.
  7. Write a legend: Develop a few sentences that summarize your concept. Remember that every objector symbol in your diagram should be included in the legend. Once this preparation sheet is completed, begin drawing, preferably with colored pencils or pens on paper or a whiteboard. After experimenting with different bases and symbols, choose a style. It is important to begin drawing the first drafts of the diagram by hand, before becoming heavily vested in the computer version in a drawing program or using the IAN online conceptual diagram creator.

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Write a ½ page description about the story, include the following items:

    1. Describe the societal impacts of your story.
    2. Discuss how the issue might be addressed via data (understanding the issue) and policy (addressing / trying to mediate the issue).
    3. What types of data could be used to assess this story?

Bring your diagram and description to the workshop. You will be presenting it during the workshop.

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These questions are broad and are intended to help you think about the complex issues of environmental decisions from multiple perspectives. You should feel free to utilize any resources available to you to answer these questions. Answer, to the best of your ability, the following challenge questions. Bring your responses to the workshop.

Click here to view the workshop challenge questions


End of Assignment

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