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How Citizen Engagement Can Be Improved Through Mobile GIS

As mobile adoption continues to grow in consumer markets, it is imperative that government continue to embrace mobile and learn how to best optimize mobile technology to stay relevant and improve citizen engagement programs. The Pew Internet & American Life Project has a variety of data related to mobile adoption. In December 2012, Pew reports that 87% of American adults have a cell phone, and 45% have a smartphone. Additionally, Pew’s research finds that as of January 2013, 26% of American adults own an e-book reader, and 31% own a tablet computer. The trends speak for themselves, below are two charts from Pew highlighting mobile device ownership, the stats are remarkable to look at.

Post Highlights

  • Mobile GIS is transforming the way government operates and engages with citizens
  • According to Pew, mobile adoption is quickly increasing by Americans – government must follow for relevancy
  • Mobile GIS extends GIS applications, users and is a game changer for government

Clearly, we are in the midst of the mobile revolution, which is transforming the way we engage with our friends, family and colleagues. Mobile is clearly a game changer for the way government engages with citizens. As mobile devices continue to be adopted by citizens, government agencies are looking for new and innovative ways to improve the reach and effectiveness of services through mobility. Esri’s Monica Pratt writes about 7 kinds of civic engagement apps, in the report, Improving Citizen Engagement: GIS Fosters Participation.

Public Information

These kinds off apps are used to improve complex data and information to citizens through a map, which cannot be easily understood otherwise. Pratt highlights that these apps are “effective at addressing transparency concerns, provide a channel for feedback, and communicate both where and why government money is being spent.” One example that Pratt highlights is Recovery.org, which shows stimulus spending from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus spending.

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 an great example of how to leverage GIS mobile to transform citizen engagement.

Solicited 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 remove the application once data has been collected from citizens.

Unsolicited Comments

Social media maps can provide insights and analysis to how citizens feel or are reacting to a certain event or policy. Pratt states, “Social media maps on events such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill aggregated and shared comments, photos, and videos that greatly enhanced the information available on conditions.”

Citizen as Sensor

Citizens as sensors apps allows citizens to report crimes, potholes or incidents to improve their communities, and act as on the ground resource to improve their community.


In this case, Pratt highlights one of my favorite citizen engagement apps, The Lifesaving App for the Android and iPhone, developed for the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District. Pratt states, “In instances of cardiac arrest, time is vital. The Lifesaving App lets smartphone users volunteer to be notified if someone nearby needs CPR. When a 911 call is received, the nearest CPR volunteer, who is in the best position to respond in timely fashion, receives information on the incident.”

Citizen as Scientist

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.

Mobile GIS will continue to be a core technology that government will have to adopt to continue to develop into a modern government. In doing so, agencies will be start to be able to provide services in mediums where citizens are, and provide high quality customer service to constituents.

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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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Josh Folk

Pat, great question. Do you know of any documentation outlining policy for government to collect location-based data? IdeaScale has the capability to collect this when a stakeholder submits comments, but I have yet to see any agency take advantage of it.