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3 Ways GIS is Powering Civic Engagement Initiatives

The following post highlights our latest guide on GIS, The Mapping Revolution: Incorporating Geographic Information Systems in Government. The report features case studies and best practices from the Census Bureau, Geoplatform.gov and United States Department of Agriculture and insights from Esri President, Jack Dangermond. (Download PDF or view online below). This blog post is an excerpt from the section, 7 Ways GIS is Powering Civic Engagement Initiatives.

Mobile programs connect dynamic working environments and increase efficiency by providing real-time information to entire agencies. However, mobile is not just useful inside of an agency, but it is also beneficial for connecting government agencies with citizens.

Monica Pratt, Editor of ArcUser magazine, states that two types of civic engagement apps are emerging. Pratt states, “The first type complements existing government services and makes them more accessible. The second, more intriguing type, encourages people to work closely with government to do things no one had thought of doing before, like rounding up volunteers to clean beaches after a holiday weekend.”

Rather than replacing the work of traditional GIS, these apps make the maps and data produced by GIS departments more useful and accessible to more people both inside and outside government. These apps also elevate the value of the authoritative data produced by government GIS departments as people become dependent on current, accurate data. Pratt continues to describe that civic engagement apps fall into seven categories: public information, public reporting, solicited comments, unsolicited comments, citizen as sensor, volunteerism, and citizen as scientist. Three examples are highlighted below, and you can view all seven by reading the guide:

Soliciting Public Comments
In this instance, Pratt explains that apps do not always have to be a permanent fixture for citizen engagement programs. Apps can be developed around a certain cause or community initiative with the intent to gather feedback and information, and then removed once the needed data has been collected from citizens.

Facilitating Public Reporting
The second kind of app that Pratt identifies is mobile apps for public reporting. Pratt states, “Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tapped into the power of crowdsourced information through the FCC Speed Test, an iPhone app that measures the quality and speed of a consumer’s broadband connection. During the first six months it was available from the App Store, 1.2 million people downloaded the app and reported back information that helped the agency plan infrastructure expansion and determine policy. The captured data is visualized as a mapped surface that can be explored.” The FCC is a great example of how to leverage GIS mobile to transform citizen engagement.

Leveraging Citizen Science
Civic engagement apps allow people who traditionally do not participate in government functions to become involved and contribute positively to their community. Citizens collect large volumes of data that can be beneficial to government agencies. Apps can allow citizens to contribute collective knowledge and assist with monitoring migration patterns or track-endangered species. In this instance, Pratt is highlighting how mobility facilitates citizen science.

Through mobility, citizens can contribute knowledge to collective databases, sharing pertinent information and becoming sensors for communities. One example of citizen science is the free Mojave Desert Tortoise app, which “lets users take a photo, find out more about this endangered species, and note location and other information about an individual tortoise,” Pratt stated.

The ultimate goal of mobile GIS applications is to connect users to government information in order to encourage citizen engagement and government transparency. With GIS available on mobile devices, government employees and citizens can provide and share information in an easily readable format, creating an open and dynamic government environment.

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Esri was founded in 1969, it realized even then that geographic information system (GIS) technology could make a difference in society. GIS helps people to solve problems at local, regional, national, and global scales. Access maps and apps at ArcGIS.com. Be sure to check out all the
 GIS resources produced by Esri and GovLoop.

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