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Steve Ressler
Steve Ressler
Steve Ressler is the Founder and President of, the “Knowledge Network for Government” which connects and fosters collaboration among over 100,000+ members of the government community. On GovLoop, members use social media such as blogs, videos, and forums to discuss best practices … More »

3 Ways GIS is Powering Civic Engagement Initiatives

September 20th, 2013 by Steve Ressler

The following post highlights GovLoop’s 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, 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.

About GovLoop: GovLoop is the “Knowledge Network for Government” – the premier social network connecting over 60,000 federal, state, and local government innovators. A great resource to connect with peers, share best practices, and find career-building opportunities.


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