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The Geospatial Edge: Issue 9, Spring 2024

The Geospatial Edge is Esri Canada’s periodic newsletter for managers and professionals tasked with growing their organizations’ geospatial capabilities. In this issue, Matt Lewin discusses a model for framing and presenting complex ideas—including ideas having to do with geospatial strategy and technology—to non-technical audiences.

Recently, I've received a number of questions about communication techniques I use during strategy work, especially ways to quickly explain technical ideas to non-technical audiences. It's a great question and an ongoing challenge. I want to address it in this edition of The Geospatial Edge by discussing a simple yet powerful method for framing and presenting complex ideas. This method not only conveys the complexity of the information but also ensures that it resonates on a personal level with the intended audience.

The model I'm referring to is the SCQA model—Situation, Complication, Question and Answer. Let's examine it and look at an example.

The SCQA model

The Situation-Complication-Question-Answer (SCQA) model is a communication and storytelling framework often used in business to structure presentations, reports or any form of strategic communication. It's particularly effective because it follows a natural storytelling arc that mirrors everyday communication and breaks down information into digestible chunks, making it easy to follow.

I like it because every strategic communication is ultimately an answer to some question, and the SCQA model provides a structured way to get to the answer without (ideally) losing anyone along the way.

Here's how each component of the SCQA model functions:

Situation. The situation sets the stage for the audience by describing the current state of affairs and providing essential background information. This helps the audience understand the context in which the ensuing content is placed. The situation should be a neutral, widely accepted fact to ensure all listeners or readers are on the same page.

Complication. The complication introduces a problem, challenge or change that disrupts the initial situation. This is where tension is created, as it highlights an issue or a set of issues that prevent the status quo from continuing or obstacles that need to be overcome. The complication is crucial as it grabs the audience's attention by creating a sense of urgency or highlighting potential repercussions.

Question. Following the complication, a question naturally arises. This question should encapsulate the challenge presented by the complication and sets the direction for what will be discussed or resolved. It focuses the audience's attention on what needs to be addressed and primes them for the solution. The question should be direct and clearly state the problem that needs solving, reflecting the concerns that arose from the complication.

Answer. Finally, the answer provides a solution or response to the question. This part should resolve the tension created by the complication and offer a clear path forward. The answer can be a recommendation, a conclusion or a set of actions to be taken. It should be concrete and actionable, satisfying the issues raised earlier in the narrative. 

The beauty of the SCQA model is that it forces you to start with the business context and avoids the nasty habit of jumping immediately to tech talk. Your audience will thank you for this.

Example: Improving access to mental health services

I'm currently working on a GIS handbook for city government leaders, and I've used the SCQA Model to structure many of the use cases described in the document. Here's one example.

Let's say a city's public health department asked you to explain the potential of GIS in improving community access to mental health services. They're not looking for a lengthy dissertation on features and functions; they want to understand how geospatial technology could be leveraged to support this critical social need. Here's how you might present your content using the SCQA method.


Cities provide mental health services to residents as a fundamental part of public health and social welfare strategies, aiming to enhance overall community well-being and economic stability. Effective mental health care helps reduce healthcare costs by preventing more severe health complications and decreasing reliance on emergency services. It also contributes to social stability by aiding individuals in managing conditions that might otherwise result in social isolation or problematic behaviours. Additionally, accessible mental health services can lead to higher productivity and reduced absenteeism in the workforce while supporting crime reduction and fostering a more inclusive and equitable community environment. Through these services, cities can ensure a more supportive, resilient and thriving society.

Author's note: In this section, I summarize the importance of mental health services to communities as a driver of well-being and prosperity. The point here is to encapsulate the current state of affairs without expressing a specific opinion one way or the other. Stick to the generally agreed-upon facts.


Despite the availability of mental health services, significant barriers prevent optimal access for all city residents. These challenges stem from a combination of systemic issues, resource limitations and societal factors including funding and resource constraints, the social stigma around mental health issues and a shortage of qualified mental health professionals. Each challenge is location-dependent with underlying drivers and required responses varying geographically. Geographic barriers, uneven distribution of services and lack of information about where services are most needed lead to underutilization and inequitable access. Certain areas may have higher needs due to socioeconomic factors, but less coverage, leading to longer travel times for treatment and a potential increase in untreated cases.

Author's note: In this section, I identify barriers to mental health service access and explain how geography and location are important underpinning factors. We're not talking technology at this point, but I want to make it clear that location is a critical factor contributing to this situation. This is the key linking step between the general issue and the geospatial opportunity.


How can the city government utilize geospatial technology to identify these service gaps and improve the accessibility and effectiveness of mental health services for all city residents?

Author's note: This should be a concise and compelling statement of the problem.


The city government can implement a GIS-driven strategy to enhance mental health services accessibility as follows:

  • Optimize funding and resource allocation decisions. Cities can use GIS to better understand geographical patterns in community needs and optimize how funding and resources are deployed. This includes mapping high-need areas, identifying gaps in service and tailoring community engagement by neighbourhood or region.
  • Promote awareness and reduce social stigma. Publicizing maps of mental health incidents can normalize the prevalence of mental health struggles and demonstrate its pervasiveness. GIS can also be used to understand travel patterns and accessibility of locations to maximize the confidentiality of service access.
  • Address health professional shortages. In the near term, administrators can use GIS to identify regions with similar challenges and develop rotation schedules and shared training programs. Longer term, GIS allows administrators to forecast regional changes in service demand based on factors such as population growth, aging or socioeconomic change and develop location-specific recruitment strategies.

Author's note: This is where you present your technical solutions. Get as technical as you feel your audience requires, but make sure they connect back to the underlying drivers presented in the "Complication". That gives you the necessary traceability you need to close the loop.

The bottom line

There are various ways to present information. Regardless of the method you choose, always remember the key principle: understand your audience. I like the SCQA approach as it organizes information in a narrative that is simple to follow and connect with. That's a tough combo to beat.

Let’s talk

I'd love to know about how you communicate technical topics to non-technical audiences. If you have an interesting story, send me an email or connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d like to hear about your experiences!

All the best,


The Geospatial Edge is a periodic newsletter about geospatial strategy and location intelligence by Esri Canada’s director of management consulting, Matt Lewin. This blog post is a copy of the issue that was sent to subscribers in May 2024. If you want to receive The Geospatial Edge right to your inbox along with related messages from Esri Canada, visit our Communication Preference Centre and select “GIS Strategy” as an area of interest.

About the Author

Matthew Lewin is the Director of Strategic Advisory Services for Esri Canada. His efforts are focused on helping management teams optimize and transform their business through GIS and location-based strategies. As a seasoned consultant, Matthew has provided organizations in the public and private sectors with practical strategies that enable GIS as an enterprise business capability. At the intersection of business and technology is where Matthew’s interests lie, and he thrives on helping organizations bridge the gap to achieve their most challenging GIS ambitions.

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