Exploring Geo-Enabled Government Services

Across government, there are fascinating uses of GIS. Whether it is the development of custom web apps, integration of cloud and/or mobile technology, or using GIS to improve citizen services. In many ways GIS is transforming how government delivers services. There are also many different ways GIS is improving services. The use of 3D and GIS has allowed government agencies to plan for floods and improve disaster management, track demographic data for urban planning, and use geotagging to find loved ones during a crisis.

GIS offers an incredible set of services for government agencies. One of these is geoenabling data. In a recent report by Esri, Geoenabling Federal Business Processes, by Sarah Hammer, Jessica Zichichi, and the Geo-Enabled Business Work Group, examples are shared as to how geoenabling can help to improve services to citizens.

Geotagging and geoenabling has been becoming a lot more common in our social lives. Think about on Facebook when you see things like “Pat Fiorenza was at GovLoop with 10 others.” That is a geotag, data that provides a location. In government, there are a lot of interesting applications as to how to use geotagging, and how geotagging can extend well beyond just providing a location of an individual, and help to improve services.

So what would it mean for government to “geoenable” services? Geo-enabling means adding geographical and locational information to datasets. Simply put, geo-enabling data means that government agencies could add points of interest and add longitude/latitude coordinates. The key benefit is that by viewing data geospatially, agencies can visually see trends and relationships.

One example from the report that was interesting was MyEnvironment from the EPA, in which the EPA provides information on the air quality, water, environmental risks and potential toxins in a community. The report states,

MyEnvironment is a Web-based mapping application that provides data on environmental conditions from numerous federal, state, local, and private sources. The site incorporates mapping technologies and georeferenced data to organize and display everything from Superfund sites and other facilities that report to the EPA to daily ultraviolet (UV) indexes and local water quality data. Users can find personalized information by searching by ZIP Code or address. MyEnvironment links directly to relevant data sources and presents the information in several formats, such as maps, reports, and charts.

The site is pretty remarkable, not just in functions, but the backbone of how it works. Like many GIS applications, maps get a lot of the attention, but driving the incredible visualizations and tools we see is rich and complex data. The federal government has caught on to this need for geoenabled data, as the main repository for federal data, data.gov, has instituted geo.data.gov.

The report highlights some of the challenges for geo-enabling and federal agencies, citing:

  • Coordination Across Programs
  • Combining Numerous Sources of Information
  • Addressing Reductions in Budget/Workforce

Throughout the report, numerous benefits are also discussed. Many of these benefits work as solutions for the challenges faced by agencies. In some cases, GIS can be a solution to helping coordination, consolidating information and address workforce needs through improved collaboration. The challenge for government agencies is to identify a mission need, and identify if GIS provides the solution they need. Benefits from the report include:

  • Streamline Mission-Critical Functions
  • Saving Resources and Improving Results
  • Empowering Individuals to learn about Issues Facing their Community
  • Consolidation of Information
  • Improving and Streamlining Operations
  • Increased Sharing and Interagency Coordination
  • Automating and Improving Adherence to Standards
  • Providing GIS Toolkits and Suites of Services
  • Including Stakeholder Outreach and Input

After reading through the report, here are five strategies for agencies to consider while implementing geoenabled services:

1 – What mission need are we solving?

The first question I would ask is what problem are we solving by implementing GIS. For many of the examples in the report, there was a clear mission need that geoenabled data worked to address. For MyEnvironment, it was increased clarity for citizens about environmental conditions in their neighborhoods, a clear need and problem that could be solved with geotagging.

2 – How does GIS solve the problem?

Is GIS really solving the problem? GIS can consolidate information, condense information and help bring clarity to the data. But, if the data is not yet available or more information is needed, adding in another layer with GIS, might not be the right solution.

3 – How do I communicate this effectively to my team?

As with any project, the important first step is making your business case. If you are really passionate about GIS and geo enabled services for your agency, take the time to clearly articulate your viewpoint and express explicitly how it will lead to benefits such as cost savings, increased collaboration, solving mission needs, and saving time.

4 – What defines success?

Think about what will define success, and how you will know that geoenabled services are working for your agency. Is it increased awareness? The MyEnvironment site is a good example, by developing the site for citizens to get environmental information about their communities, the EPA has brought more awareness to the work they do, and current state of environmental data for citizens. Awareness could be a broadly defined metric, along with cost savings, time, resources saved, etc, it is up for the agency to decide the most critical metrics.

5 – What is the costs? Who has done this already?

Have any colleagues worked on this kind of project before? Network with them and try to learn about what they have done. Through networking, you may find some resources they can share with you. Also, as they have already gone through the process, they will be a wealth of knowledge to guide you through some of the roadblocks of geoenabled services.

To start you off with finding people who have done this already, the report provides a great list of examples of geoenabling, check out these sites (all provided in the Geoenabling report, view here)

GIS and geoenabled services holds a lot of great promise for government. Although the field is new and emerging, there are a lot of great use cases and examples for government to share. As technology improves, and GIS takes a deeper root in how services are delivered to citizens, there will be even more case studies and benefits explored with GIS.

If your agency is using geoenabled services, what are some of the benefits you have seen? What would you recommend to your colleagues?

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. Check out the
Communications & Citizen Engagement Sub-Community of which they are a
council member.

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Emily Landsman

Interesting. I’m writing about GIS on a county government level right now. Will be posting in the next day or two. I will link back to this article, Pat.

Eric Koch

Great post Pat!

There’s a lot of great benefits to be covered on this topic and you did a good job of highlighting some strategies for agencies to consider.

We actually have a client, Pitney Bowes Software, who does a lot of cool stuff in this field for agencies when it comes to location intelligence and mapping, data quality and more. Some of their recent articles discussed the impacts that these have had for military recruiting and reducing the impact of wildfires. Here is the link to their site if interested in seeing their write ups on this: http://www.engage-today.com/gov/

Thanks again for sharing.