Region of Peel uses GIS for virtual public consultations during COVID-19

November 10, 2020 Dimpee Shah

The Region of Peel has always held its public consultations in-person. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Region decided to host its public open houses virtually this year. Find out how the Peel Data Centre team used GIS to effectively share information on its plans and policies with the public and collect comments and feedback from residents.  

In keeping with the Government of Ontario’s Planning Act, the Region of Peel is required to update its Official Plan every five years. This mandatory update ensures that official plan policies stay current with Provincial plan and policy changes and reflect changing community needs. Peel 2041+ is the Region’s Official Plan Review and Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR), which will help the Region better plan for the future by taking action on new population and employment forecasts, responding to public and stakeholder feedback and complying with new provincial legislation, plans and policies.

The business challenge brought about by COVID-19

Fall consultation sessions were scheduled to provide and receive input on draft Growth-Related Focus Area policies and mapping ranging from the natural environment, climate change, housing, waste management, cultural heritage and Indigenous engagement, growth management and transportation that will guide how the community will grow.

Due to COVID-19, the Region was unable to host in-person public open houses and held them online instead. Virtual consultation sessions on growth-related focus areas were conducted in September through Microsoft Teams and were recorded. Since not all residents were able to attend the live virtual consultations, the Regional Planners for the focus areas needed a way to effectively convey their story boards and posters to residents, which they could easily access anytime, and they needed the solution to be implemented quickly.

Information sharing made easy with ArcGIS StoryMaps

Alessandro Tarli, specialist, Data & GIS at The Peel Data Centre (PDC) felt using Esri’s ArcGIS StoryMaps would be the best solution as “StoryMaps is an innovative tool that has the power to combine maps with narrative text, images and multimedia content. It promotes interactivity, two-way dialogue and engages the audience in a user-friendly environment.”

The content for each story was supplied to the PDC by the Project Manager for each focus area in a format that made importing it into the StoryMaps template quick and easy. In the end, it took just over a month to produce and finalize the stories for public viewing. Using StoryMaps made it easy for daily communication between the Regional Planners and the PDC as there were many edits and changes along the way. The Regional Planners were provided access to the stories to make any edits as required, saving them time and avoiding the hassle of the back and forth.

The Peel Data Centre team collaborated with different project teams to create a story map or display board for each Growth-Related Focus Area above. View the stories

“The story maps were extremely effective in delivering the message to residents as the text was clear and concise, and wherever possible, we made sure to link supporting policy documents and reports should the resident be interested in more information,” added Alessandro.

 All maps that were created and proposed were in PDF format and were converted to online maps so that residents could interact and zoom to areas of interest. The PDC used a variety of map styles to convey the Region’s plans, including basic web maps, series and swipe.

The Transportation story includes the swipe map above that shows existing in-effect mapping of Peel’s Regional Road Mid-Block Right-of-Way Requirements on the left and proposed mapping on the right.

The Greenlands story features a map series that shows additions to provincial mapping of significant wetlands (Map 1) and changes to Niagara Escarpment Core Natural Area mapping (Map 2).

Giving residents an opportunity to speak out

Using ArcGIS Survey123, the PDC created a feedback form for each focus area so residents could provide comments on proposed policies until October 23. This field app allowed them to collect data via web or mobile devices, even when disconnected from the Internet. It also enabled them to analyze responses quickly.

At the end of each story, the PDC embedded a feedback form built using ArcGIS Survey123. The app enables rapid data collection with predefined questions that use logic and provide easy-to-fill answers. Survey123 also allows for embedded audio and images, and support for many languages.

Opening a world of possibilities

ArcGIS StoryMaps and ArcGIS Survey123 have allowed the PDC to be creative and gain more experience using the technology. Creating more products using these applications aligns with the Region’s Term of Council Priorities of Improving Service and Confidence. As well, it supports Peel’s Digital Strategy, which will enable the Region to meet the changing needs of its residents and employees by providing better access to information and data.

“In the end, creating the story maps was a great collaboration opportunity as the decision to host online virtual consultation sessions was new to the Region. Ultimately, it resulted in positive feedback and success,” concludes Alessandro.

Interested in creating your first story map? Visit ArcGIS StoryMaps

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Dimpee Shah

Dimpee Shah is a Public Relations Specialist for Esri Canada. The power of geography and its ability to build ‘real connections’ fascinate her. Dimpee has a bachelor’s degree in mass media with majors in advertising and public relations. She has over 10 years of international experience in developing and executing communications campaigns to meet business objectives. Her love for performing arts has inspired her to always put her best foot forward.

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