NPO Mapping Case Study: Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living
The Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living is a statewide coalition of the 23 regional centers for independent living (CIL) that serve Illinoisans with disabilities. CILs promote full and equal access to our communities for those residents and visitors with disabilities. The mission of INCIL is to help these regional centers share resources and collaborate on statewide issues such as funding and advocacy.
The INCIL website has a page for visitors seeking more information about their local center or about all centers in the state. This page gives visitors two options for finding information:
- Visitors can select a specific county from a menu of all 102 counties in Illinois, plus entries for the city of Chicago, and see a text listing of the CIL serving that county, or
- Visitors can also download a Word document containing contact information for all 23 regional CIL organizations.
This interface works well enough - users who know their county can find contact information for their local CIL - but it's not the most user-friendly. We can use maps - including free mapmaking tools - to make this interface more informative and more useful for site visitors!
Our first mapping product for the INCIL center list is a simple Google Maps mashup of the CIL locations and contact information. This Google Map can be embedded "live" on the INCIL website so that INCIL staff can easily keep it up-to-date using the user-friendly My Maps interface. By viewing the CIL location data on an interactive map, visitors can zoom in on a specific CIL, search for nearby businesses or services, and get driving or public transit directions directly from Google!
Google's My Maps application is easy to use for nonprofit staff members, even those without any training in mapmaking! There are tools to help import large amounts of data, reducing data entry time and hassle. Mapmakers have lots of control over the appearance of the "info balloon" or pop-ups for each point on the map, such as text formatting, adding images. You can even insert your own icons to make a custom map just for your organization!
Interactive maps are great for embedding on a website and offering additional tools to visitors, but they are not helpful for offline use, such as printing in brochures, fact sheets, advocacy materials, etc. The mashup above doesn't help give site visitors "the whole picture" when it comes to the extent of CIL service areas in a large state such as Illinois. For instance, instead of searching for the CIL serving a specific county, users might want to know which counties are served by a specific CIL.
To address these issues, we also created a static image map of the state that illustrates the location and service areas of all 23 centers. We used county boundary data - obtained free from the US Census Bureau - and combined those county borders with the service area information on the master list of Illinois CILs. You can see the full-size image map and center directory on the MapTogether site or take a look at the excerpt below:
When it comes to geographic size, Illinois isn't Texas or Alaska but neither is it a particularly small state. This static map illustrates the large service areas covered by centers in rural downstate Illinois, especially when compared to the more populous regions of the Chicago metro area, some of which have multiple CILs per county. One of the most important things we notice on this map, however, isn't about a certain CIL -- it's that there are multiple counties in Illinois that aren't served by a CIL at all! The southernmost part of the state and the Ohio River border counties in the southeast corner of the state are highlighted in bright red, indicating that they are not within a CIL region. If we were to take our mapping exercises to the next level, we might overlay state legislative maps over our CIL map, so that we can determine which state legislators to contact about funding for new CILs in underserved regions of the state.
As noted elsewhere on the MapTogether website, maps tell stories about the communities and world in which we live - hopefully these maps help visitors to the INCIL website learn about the centers across the state helping Illinoisans participate fully in our community life!