Why is Web GIS so important for public policy makers?

September 16, 2015 Gordon Plunkett

Many of government’s major activities are governed by policy, and government policy implementation can have far-reaching effects on the public’s quality of life. These policies often include location or spatial relationships so using GIS in creating and implementing policy is important for good government. Let’s take a look at why Web GIS is such a valuable tool for government policy makers.

Public policy guides governments’ actions and is generally developed and implemented in consultation with other non-government groups. No matter what level of government is interested in setting policy, the importance of quality decisions made within a solid policy framework cannot be understated. Public policy can be related to many subjects – from planning, infrastructure, land use, environment, resources and taxation to parking, snow removal and garbage pickup.

Public policy has several aspects. First, it is generally not developed solely within government. Often, public comment and input is gathered as a result of government consultations. Second, once the policy is studied, approved and implemented, it’s important for government, no matter what level, to convey this policy to the public in a clear, accessible fashion.

Next, the government organization needs to implement the policy consistently across its jurisdiction. Finally, government needs to enforce this policy in its operational activities to ensure that the majority of the public is benefitting from it.

For example, in the U.S., the use of GIS for developing and communicating public policy has been known for some time. Read how Policy Makers Increasingly Use ArcGIS Online to Understand, Explain Issues.

As it turns out, Web GIS is a great tool for all facets of public policy development and implementation. First and foremost, Web GIS is spatially oriented, as are most public policies. It allows policy makers to easily study and evaluate any spatial relationships.

Web GIS is also useful for informing the public about the policy. It is easily accessible via the Internet and generally requires only basic computer skills and little training to use. As well, it’s an efficient tool for collecting and displaying community feedback on the policy.

This Web GIS site, top100projects.ca, shows information about the biggest infrastructure projects in Canada that can be filtered, charted and viewed by project, sector, funding type, province and dollar value.

Esri Canada has a number of demonstration Web sites that show policy development, information and feedback within a Web GIS context. Here are a few selected examples.

Policy Function National or Local Source Description
1. Development National Industry Canada Cell tower locations
2. Development National Statistics Canada Single family households with children
3. Development National Canada Top100 Canada's biggest infrastructure projects
4. Information National Environment Canada EcoAction Community Funding Program
5. Information Provincial British Columbia General election results
6. Information Local Val-D’Or, Québec Wireless coverage areas
7. Information Local Québec City, Québec Population and income
8. Information Local Regional District of East Kootenay, British Columbia Areas, boundaries and taxation
9. Information Local City of Toronto, Ontario TTC bus and streetcar ridership
10. Information Local County of Brant, Ontario Economic Development, heritage and tourism
11. Information Local Leeds Grenville, Ontario Construction, property and facilities
12. Information Local Simcoe County, Ontario Real estate, forestry, facilities and solid waste
13. Feedback Local Woodstock, Ontario Crowdsourcing noise, potholes, snow problems and vandalism

So, does Web GIS help policy makers with many aspects of government policy development and implementation? Empirically, it certainly appears that governments that use Web GIS for policy making and application have been very successful at creating quality public policies. Several jurisdictions have started with a few sample policies for evaluation and have since moved to broadened implementations.

If you’re a policy maker, what’s stopping you from giving Web GIS to support your work a try?

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

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