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and be notified of status changes almost as soon as they happen. Protecting Natural Spaces The cloud has also played a central role in facilitating collaboration and communi- cation for Nova Scotia's ambitious "Our Parks & Protected Areas Plan." One of the first of its kind in Canada, the plan updates the province's park system to ensure long- term sustainability, while increasing legally protected landmass to at least 12 percent by 2015. To help define the plan, the Department of Environment invited people from across the province to attend a series of public consultations. Because it's a province-wide initiative, enormous amounts of geographic information must be publicly shared dur- ing consultations. As such, the department looked for a mapping solution that was flexible and affordable, and would allow even non-mapping experts within the orga- nization to edit and share data. They opted for a cloud-based mapping solution, that allows them to communicate both hosted data and data stored behind the department's firewall with consulta- tion participants and other members of the public. "The cloud platform is ideal because our data changes frequently and it provides the flexibility to edit data on the fly, even for those with little mapping training," said Peter Labor, Director, Protected Areas and Ecosystems, Department of Environment. "We've eliminated many steps that are typically involved when serving up large amounts of information. Data that could take days to update and make available can now be updated within 1/2 hour." Platform for Public Consultations Data is stored in the cloud and made available through an intuitive, easy-to-use web map . Us- ers can access detailed information on any of the existing or proposed protected areas across the province. By clicking on a par- ticular site, they can pull up an information sheet on the area and print out a paper map. The level of detail provided allows users to get quick answers to questions such as: Which roads are included or not included in the protected area? On which side of the lake does the boundary fall? Layers can be turned on and off, and users can choose how they view their data through a variety of basemaps. Feedback can then be submitted through a web- enabled form and distributed to staff at the department. Because the feedback often contains personal contact information, it is fed back to the government server and stored behind the firewall. "During public consultations, we used to collate data from a variety of sources including phone calls, letters, and emails, which was very time-consuming," said La- bor. "Now, we leverage the cloud platform as a gateway for users to submit their com- ments via an interactive web-based form that feeds directly into our consultation database. This allows us to access a single stream of feedback that's immediately ac- tionable." The web map can be leveraged in the privacy of a resident's home, on mobile devices, and on laptops available at the live consultation sessions. Layers are added and subtracted to facilitate the discussion, and maps can be printed for further debate. The Department of Environment also created an internal map for use on iPads. It allows staff to access sensitive data layers such as endangered species and wilderness camps, to answer questions during public discussions. As data security is a common concern when using cloud solutions, the department activated security features in the mapping platform to restrict data access to a specific group of users. The department facilitated 17 consulta- tions across the province. The plan was revised based on public feedback and then reflected on the web map so that the public could view how their input affected the overall plan. The web map has proved so successful that the department is currently looking into developing a permanent portal that will provide ongoing updates regard- ing protected areas. Cloud Mapping's Silver Lining Governments increasingly embrace cloud mapping technology for its numer- ous benefits. It eliminates the need to invest in hardware or install software, reducing IT maintenance costs. Since the solution only requires internet access, it's easier to share information across the organization and with the public, using any web-enabled device. Users create a web map once and share it with numerous people who access the map from any device, including tablets and smartphones. This offers incredible flexibility and allows for easier collabora- tion, between employees who work in and outside the office, across government agencies, and between government and the public. As Nova Scotia's example shows, web maps open up many opportunities to im- prove planning and decision making using real-time data; efficiently disseminate and gather information from the public; and support more timely updates of important data. Web maps help bring government programs and services down to earth: one doesn't need to be a mapping expert to use web maps, making them important tools for engaging citizens. MW 44 Municipal World January 2014

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