Open Data and GIS: Better Understanding Our World

In our latest GovLoop guide, Open Data and GIS: Better Understanding Our World, we explore a crucial element of the open data movement: geographic information systems (GIS). GIS lets users visualize, question, analyze, interpret and understand data to reveal relationships, patterns and trends, says Esri, the global leader in GIS technology. In this report, GovLoop and Esri have partnered to show the power of open data and GIS. Specifically, this report:

  • Provides a history of open data within the U.S. government.
  • Explains how Esri powers open data initiatives with ArcGIS.
  • Gives you open data and GIS best practices.
  • Offers four steps to configure your open data site with ArcGIS Online.
  • Details case studies from open data and GIS pioneers.

Today there is a unique opportunity to connect people through information technology. In doing so, government agencies can gain access to the knowledge of communities and drive innovations outside their walls. But first agencies need to create shared data infrastructures that are open, secure and resilient to help push practices that improve how our government agencies and representatives engage with communities.

As a result, officials at many government agencies have chosen to make their authoritative and high-value data open to the public. Open data has facilitated a new way of thinking about data and how it can spur public-sector improvements. From the departments of Commerce to Transportation and from New York to San Francisco, open data programs have transformed the way government workers communicate with citizens, business, developers, journalists and nonprofit organizations.

Data is critical to understanding our world, and when you make use of powerful technology such as ArcGIS, you can bring your data to life, which will improve decision-making. With open data and GIS, agencies can transform their information and create a data platform for innovation in ways that traditional charts, graphs and data infrastructures simply cannot.

Take for example the state of Maryland, an early adopter of GIS and open data. During a GovLoop and Esri Meetup on open data, Barney Krucoff, geographic information officer for the state, detailed his efforts to help Maryland use GIS and make state data freely and publicly available. One was helping Senate Bill 644 and House Bill 1260 become a law that makes data open by default. The law makes it standard practice for data to be machine-readable and released to the public in ways that are easy to find and accessible.

“One of the things this law does is that it recognizes that both the geospatial and alphanumeric are governed by the same law,” Krucoff said. The benefits he expects from it include:

  • Increased citizen engagement.
  • More government transparency.
  • Improved decision-making.
  • Reduced expenses related to the Freedom of Information Act requests, reporting and printing.
  • More entrepreneurship and application development.

“We got data the citizens have paid for and is suitable for public consumption – and it’s our job to make that as easy as possible,” Krucoff said. To comply with the new legislation, he and his team have embarked on a mission to revamp the state’s open data portal. Much of it is powered by Esri’s ArcGIS software, which helps dozens of states and local governments create a platform for data innovation.

The updated site will include a map gallery, GIS data categories and featured datasets. All of this information will make it easier to access data and to connect with anyone who’s looking to build applications, mash up data or become more engaged with the state. Additionally, it will help state and local government agencies access the GIS data.

By releasing data to the public, developers, private-sector workers and activists can leverage data in new ways, enabling government to crowdsource, or tap into the wisdom of the community, and provide a platform for innovation – powered by data. The Maryland case study is one of dozens of examples of how Esri is revolutionizing government through GIS and open data. With Esri’s ArcGIS Online, agencies gain a comprehensive approach to open government, providing public managers with a set of tools to use their data and integrate GIS. With ArcGIS Online, users can access a variety of templates, including executive dashboards, permitting tools and civic engagement devices.

Throughout this guide, we challenge you to think about how you can bring open data to your community. Be the next open data pioneer and build data-driven communities that can tackle government’s most complex and pressing challenges.