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Improving   CitizenEngagementGIS fosters participationBy Monica Pratt, ArcUser Editor
Manager’s Corner                                             GIS-based civic engagement apps are improving the performance...
Civic engagement apps fall into seven categories:                                           Public information            ...
Managers Corner                                                                                                  Save Time...
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Improving Citizen Engagement


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Mobile GIS applications provide a way for governments to share information with citizens and engage them as sensors and scientists.

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Improving Citizen Engagement

  1. 1. Improving CitizenEngagementGIS fosters participationBy Monica Pratt, ArcUser Editor
  2. 2. Manager’s Corner GIS-based civic engagement apps are improving the performance and image of government by helping citizens actively participate in government on their terms. In recent years, citizens’ expectations of exclusionary at worst and don’t provide government have changed radically. In timely feedback. In addition, current meth- response to perceived shortcomings of ods used by government for communicating government, they have become impatient. with citizens are unidirectional. This reinforc- These shortcomings can be categorized es the impression that government isn’t lis- broadly as unresponsiveness, inefficiency, tening. In this era of social media, communi- and lack of accountability and transparency. cation between government and governed At the same time that citizens need and want should be a conversation. more from government on all levels, govern- Consequently, just pushing back-office When a call for CPR comes into the San ments are operating with fewer resources applications out to the public-facing webRamon Valley Fire Protection District, the and dealing with systemic issues such as fail- will not meet the needs of citizens. The de-Lifesaving App, available for Android andiPhone smartphones, notifies the nearest ing infrastructure. fining characteristic of a civic engagementavailable volunteer to come to the rescue. Citizens’ impatience with government app is its bidirectional nature. No matter the is also a by-product of the profound trans- purpose, apps should incorporate a feed- formation in their interactions with busi- back mechanism that communicates not nesses, family, and friends. Thanks to smart- only citizen concerns but also government phones and tablet devices and ubiquitous response. access to the Internet, these interactions Creating these apps requires understand- have become on demand and customized. ing what citizens need and want and supply- Impulse is quickly connected to action. ing it quickly. Instead of building monolithic People have become accustomed to buying apps designed to last, a more successful anything from a jar of skin cream to a major strategy is to make disposable apps that appliance with just one click. Through social are rapidly created, used for a time, and media, they just as quickly and effortlessly discarded. stay in nearly constant contact with friends Two types of apps are emerging. The first and relatives—no matter where they live. type complements existing government ser- Thanks to the prevalence of these devices, vices and makes them more accessible. The concerns about the digital divide that were second, more intriguing type encourages the centerpiece of discussions about put- people to work closely with government ting government information on the Internet to do things no one had thought of doing a dozen years ago are largely moot. Privacy before, like rounding up volunteers to clean concerns also seem to be a nonissue for beaches after a holiday weekend. younger generations who are comfortable Other entities, with a variety of agendas, sharing almost any information. have also begun producing civic engage- In contrast, traditional ways of interacting ment apps. These entities can be startup with government—writing letters, attend- companies, social-minded organizations, ing town meetings, participating in focus not-for-profits, and traditional GIS partners. groups—seem cumbersome at best and Some companies seem dedicated to Spring 2012 au 33
  3. 3. Civic engagement apps fall into seven categories: Public information Unsolicited comments Maps are being used with greater fre- Governments can learn about public opin- quency to communicate complex informa- ion on issues and the effects of events tion that would not be quickly grasped in through apps that gather constituents’ another format. These apps are effective at posts on social media sites such as Twitter addressing transparency concerns, provide and Flickr. Social media maps on events a channel for feedback, and communicate such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill aggre- both where and why government money is gated and shared comments, photos, and being spent., mapping the videos that greatly enhanced the informa- American Recovery and Reinvestment Act tion available on conditions. economic stimulus spending, is a good ex- ample of this type of app. Citizen as sensor The Crime Tips app, from Esri partners Public reporting The Omega Group and CitySourced, gives The Federal Communications Commission police many more eyes on the street. The (FCC) tapped into the power of crowd- iPhone/iPod/iPad app lets the user learn sourced information through the FCC Speed which crimes are happening nearby as well Test, an iPhone app that measures the qual- as anonymously report crime tips that will ity and speed of a consumer’s broadband be forwarded to authorities. connection. During the first six months it was available from the App Store, 1.2 million Volunteerism people downloaded the app and reported The Lifesaving App for the Android and back information that helped the agency iPhone, developed for the San Ramon plan infrastructure expansion and deter- Valley Fire Protection District by the mine policy. The captured data is visualized nonprofit PulsePoint Foundation, crowd- as a mapped surface that can be explored. sources Good Samaritans. In instances of cardiac arrest, time is vital. The Lifesaving Solicited comments App lets smartphone users volunteer to Apps don’t have to be forever. When the be notified if someone nearby needs CPR. Regional Transportation Commission of When a 911 call is received, the nearest Washoe County, Nevada, wanted citizen CPR volunteer, who is in the best position comment on the Reno Sparks Bicycle and to respond in timely fashion, receives infor- Pedestrian Master Plan, it worked with Esri mation on the incident. partner CitySourced to develop an app that would let residents identify the loca- Citizen as scientist tions for needed improvements, such as a Individuals can contribute to collective crosswalk or a bike lane, simply by taking knowledge with these apps. The free a photo of the location with a smartphone Mojave Desert Tortoise app lets users take and writing comments in a form. These a photo, find out more about this endan- comments were captured and displayed gered species, and note location and other on a web map. The app went up in summer information about an individual tortoise. 2010 and was taken down in early 2011. The FCC Speed Test, an iPhone app thatcitizens download, measures the qualityand speed of a consumer broadbandconnection and sends that information tothe Federal Communications Commission.34 au Spring 2012
  4. 4. Managers Corner Save Time, Expense & Embarrassment! Spell check your maps with... v. 4.0 Reports sent using the Citizen Connect app for iPhone and Android smartphones areautomatically fed into the City of Boston’s work order system. Residents can use theassigned tracking number to check on a request’s status. The extension corrects:disrupting government, while others devel- are integrated with business processes. • Tablesop civic engagement apps to gain a compet- Rather than replacing the work of tradi- • Legendsitive edge. In most cases, the apps are not tional GIS, these apps make the maps and • Layer labelsintegrated with government workflows. To data produced by GIS departments more • Scale objectsthe citizen, these apps appear to work, but useful and accessible to more people bothbecause they don’t furnish information in a inside and outside government. These apps • Grouped graphicsway government systems can easily use, the also elevate the value of the authoritative • Geodatabase annotationsinformation they provide is not easily acted data produced by government GIS depart- • Map and layout annotationson by government. ments as people become dependent on Embracing civic engagement apps brings obtaining current, accurate challenges and opportunities for GIS Beyond these general patterns of app And now...managers in local government. A compel- development previously cited, civic en-ling argument for taking ownership of civicengagement apps is to avoid problems gagement apps fall into seven categories (page 34) based on the type of interaction • Dynamic Textstemming from poor integration with back- they encourage: public information, public (75+ properties)office processes and take advantage of new reporting, solicited comments, unsolicitedsources of geospatial information. comments, citizen as sensor, volunteerism, With these apps, usability is of paramount and citizen as scientist. FREE 90-Day Downloadimportance. Conventions of a typical GIS in- Civic engagements apps have the poten-terface design may need to be abandoned tial to enlist new segments of the popula- U.S. Patent No. 7,681,126 ELA and volume discounts availablein favor of ones that use interactions citizens tion—people who had not previously par- Esri trademarks provided under license from Esriwill be familiar with. Another challenge as- ticipated in government—and bring theirsociated with civic engagement apps is the concerns, insight, energy, and commitment 888-334-3832design of workflows that take advantage of to reinvigorate government. This is an excit- www.Edgetech-US.comnew sources of geospatial information and ing prospect. Edgetech America, Inc. An Esri partner since 1995 Spring 2012 au 35