How Municipalities Are Using Geospatial to Keep Residents Informed

Why geospatial maps

Local Governments (LGs) commonly require Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) to allow communities to release their open data, promote transparency, and organize public works projects. A cross-functional GIS initiative provides internal stakeholders with access to information, making it easier to coordinate and plan capital projects, operate parks and transportation, and manage environmental needs. Moreover, the public can search publicly available datasets including administrative boundaries, transportation projects, land use, facilities, and infrastructure data. GIS helps put context around information.

Previously, making use of these large datasets required large scale geospatial development projects to present them in a meaningful way. Today, it is easier than ever to connect staff, administration, council, and citizens to real-time information services through web map applications.

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In fact, over 30 Canadian Municipalities committed to adopting open data libraries, using ArcGIS Open Data by 2016, providing the public not only with datasets but with tools to easily understand, use and interact with the data itself. Web map applications help create meaning to open data. Including them within focused applications pertaining to a specific function or process allows organizations and the public to gain access to the precise information they are looking for in an efficient manner.

Communicating with your residents

LGs that provide easier access to their data reduce the burden of communicating information on a case-by-case basis. Municipalities like City of Prince George are going one step further by building tools that help directly communicate with their residents. Smartphone and desktop applications allow their residents to keep up to date with essential municipal activities such as snow removal, road construction, and garbage collection. Other LGs have used GIS web applications to inform residents of cultural events, building permit issuances and land development applications as well as waste and water infrastructure upgrades.

Ultimately, web mapping applications keep both internal stakeholders and residents informed within a municipality. They are a very effective way for government organizations to build true engagement by enabling bidirectional communication within their community.

Quantifying success

Every application should be built with a purpose, whether it’s keeping residents up to date on road construction, public work projects or infrastructure upgrades. Key performance indicators centered around user engagement (i.e. who, where and when people are visiting the application) are critical to defining the success of a web map application. These metrics can help municipalities create more efficient business processes.

In the summer of 2016 the City of Prince George was tasked by upper management to inform the public of their current and future road construction and sidewalk rehabilitation projects. They decided to do this using a web map application, but they also had to demonstrate that this approach was successful.
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The published web map application, configured for smartphones and tablet devices, showed exactly which of the city’s roads were currently under construction and how this work was affecting traffic flows. Thanks to its clean and simple user interface, Maptiks web map analytics proved that residents were in fact coming to the application. Furthermore, with the help of Maptiks and the city’s geospatial team they were able to track all of their visitors’ interactions.

The geospatial team and the public relations team were able to compile a report for management showing key performance data and useful demographic insights. In this case, it showed a clear increase in the use of the application over time and a high level of engagement from residents. Call centre activity declined as inquiries about the construction work were handled by the informative web map. The analytics gathered by Maptiks helped the city’s public relations team market their applications more effectively through social media and online.

In conclusion, the city found that these applications are not only effective tools for informing the public, but the resulting analytics are also excellent for reporting GIS information and streamlining municipal services.

*Originally published in The Roadrunner Summer 2017 issue