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Rapid App Creation for Beginners: 8 Tips from Michel Pagé

Starting out as a total beginner and eight months later having created more than 11 apps, Michel Pagé from Amos, Québec, shares 8 tips he wishes he’d known at the start of his Community Map of Canada and app development journey.

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

Michel Pagé has been a GIS Technician at the Ville d'Amos, Québec, since 2018 and was the only geomatics staff at the city when he actively joined the Community Map of Canada program in late 2022. Although skilled at GIS data collection and management, Michel’s experience with ArcGIS Online and app creation was minimal, meaning that the Ville d'Amos had a plethora of municipal geospatial data (such as zoning and bike routes) which were unfortunately often shared in the form of static PDF maps.

A screenshot of a map of the cycling network of the MRC Abitibi and the Ville d’Amos, Quebec. The map does not have a basemap, just a white background. The different bike routes are symbolized with different coloured solid and dashed lines and have labels indicating the length of the routes. There is a legend in the top right-hand corner of the map.

An example of a static PDF map of the cycling routes of the MRC of Abitibi and the Ville d’Amos, found on their website

The Ville d'Amos, comprising a territory of approximately 2,300 square kilometers and housing 18,800 residents, needed more dynamic applications to better engage internal municipal staff and external community. Furthermore, they also needed a more accurate basemap for their community. Michel recognized that contributing to and using the Community Map of Canada in his apps was a valuable way to get the most out of their ArcGIS license.  

The Ville d'Amos originally joined the Community Map of Canada program in the summer of 2021 but it wasn’t until the autumn of 2022 that Michel plunged headfirst into actively contributing data. He started with two layers - buildings and street centerlines - which were published to the basemap shortly after. His second contribution, just a few months later, would include nine layers of data. With the newly- contributed layers -- building footprints, parcel outlines, water bodies and river segments, road network, and more -- downtown Amos was more filled in and accurate on the map with their up-to-date community data.  

Below is a comparison of the basemap before and after Michel's data contribution. Although the Community Map of Canada was initially sourcing data for Amos from other sources before Michel’s contributions, the image shows the value in a community’s own accurate, up-to-date, and locally-sourced data that can be integrated into the basemap, rather than only residing in PDFs or ArcGIS Pro projects.

A comparison image of two maps of the Ville d’Amos, Québec. The maps are the same with the exception that the map on the left is missing some points of interest and features compared to the right-hand side.

Above is a comparison of the basemap before and after Michel's contribution, showing how the addition of building data, parks, and educational buildings really fills in the map.

With the support of the Esri Canada’s GIS Analyst Kira-Marie Lazda, who is responsible for western Québec, Michel became energized to learn more and to start building out applications for his colleagues and residents of Amos. He had seen numerous applications, especially during his onboarding to the program, built by fellow contributors across Québec and Canada that inspired him to build out his own.  

However, Michel was a self-described novice ArcGIS Online user and recent ArcGIS Pro migrant, who had certainly never used ArcGIS Web AppBuilder or ArcGIS Experience Builder. He felt that he would need to do a lot of personal research to build a foundational knowledge base on which he could build apps and interactive maps, especially given his goal to share content more effectively and attractively to the residents of the Ville d’Amos. Thus commenced the beginning of the learning curve of Michel’s journey. Between scouring existing Esri resources, community pages and blogs, reaching out to Kira and other Esri Canada staff, and doing his own research, Michel began to quickly ascend the learning curve.  

One week after another, Michel learned about and used new widgets, such as the Print widget (allowing for exporting to PDF) and the Draw widget (allowing coworkers to draw and edit data in apps). He uncovered tricks that helped him and other communities in Québec, such as using the Québec Address Geocoder which provides more accurate Québec address locating than the Esri Inc. Address locator. In his first few months, Michel had created several apps in Web AppBuilder but then switched to using Experience Builder because he preferred its grouping layer options, especially for his zoning app.

The more he contributed, learned and implemented, the more Michel shared his experience with the Community Map of Canada team. So much so, that he was invited to present some of his tips and tricks with other community members from Québec and beyond during a Happy Hour/ 5 à 7 networking event. 

Here are the top 8 tips that Michel believes would help beginners kickstart their app development and make the most of their ArcGIS license: 

  1. For contributing data to the Community Map of Canada: Create an APRX file containing all the data layers that you will share to the Community Map of Canada. This is an important step because this ArcGIS Pro project will be used in creating subsequent map packages to upload data to the basemap. In having a specific APRX file that gets shared as a map, you will ensure a streamlined, efficient and organized update process for your data contribution. 

  1. For creating interactive maps: Create an APRX file containing all the data layers that you will use in your interactive maps. By keeping in one place all data layers that you want to update in apps, you can ensure that all updates sync without error or exclusion. When overwriting outdated layers, this process helps preserve symbology across updates to layers.  

  1. Share or replace your layers hosted in ArcGIS Online, keeping in mind your available credits. 

  1. Prepare your interactive map by adding and configuring the data layers in Map Viewer. Before bringing the map (with its data layers and symbology) into your apps, configure the data (as well as its pop-ups) in Map Viewer first. 

  1. Decide which app builder (e.g. Experience Builder, Web AppBuilder, Instant Apps, etc.) you will use so that you know how your interactive map in Map Viewer will be shared.  

Some of Michel’s advice for steps of the process are as follow:  

  1. When creating a map package with your updated data layers, use the same file name for the map package. This ensures that the old map package is promptly and automatically replaced by the newly uploaded one and the data will sync seamlessly to the basemap. 

  1. Assign a unique ID number to features to avoid problems when replacing old map packages with updated data layers.  

  1. Depending on whether your map and app will be shared publicly or privately, enable the sharing settings accordingly in ArcGIS Online. Keep in mind the intended audience of your data and app. While working on something, you might want to keep it shared privately until it is ready to publish publicly. Remember when changing sharing settings that you share dependent layers the same way (for example, all data within the map).  

In addition to these tips, Michel has also identified the easiest way of ensuring that his data updates are accurately synced to the basemaps in his apps: using the Community Map of Canada in his municipality’s apps and maps and contributing data to the basemap. Setting the Community Map of Canada as his default basemap ensures that the updates he provides to the basemap are smoothly integrated across his maps and apps as soon as they are published.  

To learn more about how to access and use the Community Map of Canada in your maps and applications, there are several helpful blogs explaining how to access it in ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Online, Enterprise, and even offline. Using the Community Map of Canada ensures the most up-to-date data sourced directly from communities for Canadian content. If you are a potential data contributor who would like to submit data to the Community Map of Canada, fill out the form on our webpage or reach out to us at

My fellow Community Maps Technical Solutions Specialist (TSS) Amanda Hunter is hosting a webinar on November 2 on using imagery in ArcGIS products, titled “Imagery in ArcGIS: Exploring Products and Possibilities”. The webinar will better orient you to the possibilities associated with using imagery in the ArcGIS system and show you how to begin using these products through multiple workflow demonstrations. Register here for the webinar.

About the Author

Emma Melis is a bilingual Technical Solutions Specialist (TSS) supporting the Community Map of Canada team. She enthusiastically champions Canadian and French-Canadian community representation in the Community Map of Canada basemap program. Emma is a lifelong environmentalist and pursued a Bachelor of Arts & Science in Sustainability, Science & Society at McGill University where she applied GIS to projects on environmental sustainability, gender and mobility. Curious and fascinated with discovery and research, her passions lie in spatial thinking, interdisciplinary sustainability, community-building and science communication. Outside of work, Emma is an artist, map enthusiast and storyteller.

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