Town of Truro improves communication and public engagement using GIS

August 18, 2020

With a team of two people managing its geographic information system (GIS), find out how the Town of Truro in Nova Scotia implemented several apps and a digital hub that take information sharing and public engagement to the next level. 

Known as the “Hub of Nova Scotia”, the Town of Truro is home to more than 12,000 residents and a thriving business community. In 2019, the Town looked for new ways to better communicate information and engage more easily and effectively with its constituents and stakeholders. They wanted to provide interactive online mapping – as well as apps and online tools – through their website, but it turned into a much larger project when they discovered the many Esri tools accessible to them through their existing ArcGIS license.

At first, they were not fully aware of the various possibilities of working with ArcGIS Online. Without a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve with the cloud mapping platform, they dove right in.

“We started uploading our data to ArcGIS Online and building interactive mapping applications such as the Properties for Sale or Lease app and the Development Applications app. There was some learning curve, but we were able to work with Esri Canada staff who offered remote training sessions. We also took advantage of the many free online courses that Esri offered. The more we learned, the more ideas we had,” said Amanda Bent, planning technician, Town of Truro.

Effective communication made easy with ArcGIS StoryMaps

After creating some mapping applications and posting them on their website, they realized how easy it was to promote the Town’s programs and local events using ArcGIS StoryMaps.

Amanda added: “ArcGIS StoryMaps was simple to use, intuitive to navigate and allowed quite a bit of customization. We were able to easily design and brand each story map to match the Town’s brand.”

The Parks, Recreation and Culture department’s  Community Events and the Planning Services department’s 2019 Year in Review have become two of their team’s favourite story maps. These combine text, photos, maps, infographics and tables into cohesive, easy-to-understand stories. 

They then turned their focus on economic development and tourism and developed story maps such as A Trip to Truro and The Truro Transformation. With each story they created, the process has become easier. These story maps allow them to efficiently share information and communicate various initiatives in a creative way, while also attracting tourism and business opportunities for the Town.

Increasing community engagement with ArcGIS Hub

After several months, the team hit a stumbling block – the Town already had quite a number of interactive mapping applications and story maps, but they were not in a centralized location. While they liked the ability to embed or link each app and story map to individual pages on their website, they also wanted to centralize all the maps, apps and data in one location so the public could easily access them. This was when they started looking into developing a digital hub. 

“With the help of Esri Canada staff, we were able to set up an ArcGIS Hub site for Truro and found that it was quite easy to configure and load all our existing maps and apps. We branded the hub “Interactive Truro” and linked it to the landing page of our Town’s website.  The result was a seamless transition from our website to Esri’s cloud platform. Our website has limited capabilities for expansion and design, so the hub is a great complement to our website.”

COVID-19 thrusts online hub into the spotlight

Up until recently, the Town had not done much in terms of promoting Interactive Truro because they wanted to get a good grasp of the technology before they “revealed” it to the community.  So far, the hub has taken two staff members approximately four months to complete. And just when they were beginning to develop a strategy for their digital platform, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

They quickly changed gears and started creating an app to help support local businesses through the pandemic.

“We knew mapping our local businesses and sharing how each was operating during the pandemic could be a useful tool for the public. It also helped promote a ‘support local’ message. From this idea, we created the #buylocaltruro app while working from home. It was with this app that we first launched our Interactive Truro hub to the public,” said Amanda.

Since Interactive Truro was launched in April, the hub has received nearly 4,000 visits, while the #buylocaltruro app has received more than 1,000 views.

In the future, The Town plans to add more mapping apps and story maps to its hub. They are also working on expanding their second ArcGIS Hub site for Victoria Park. They will continue to share COVID-19-related apps through their social media channels.

With potential municipal budget cuts, they are hopeful they can do more with less. They are currently rethinking how to improve their traditional way of communicating with the public by integrating ArcGIS Hub and StoryMaps applications into their public communications plan.

For those thinking about dipping their toes in ArcGIS Hub and StoryMaps, Amanda has this advice: “Sometimes, the best strategy is to just dive right in and learn as you go. Get help from the experts when you need it and go with the flow in terms of rolling out your app.”

Interested in creating your first story map? Visit ArcGIS StoryMaps.

To learn more about configuring your own hub site, visit ArcGIS Hub.

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

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