Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Mapping a More Participatory Government

ARCHIVES
Chicago uses open 311 for a map of dog parks in the city. Chicago uses open 311 for a map of dog parks in the city. City of Chicago

Kansas City has one, and so does Washington. Of course, New York and San Francisco have one. Miami used to have one, but now it doesn't. I speak about 311 maps: a data visualization that plots city service requests on a map of the area (sometimes run by city government, but not always).

There are other mashups of maps and data. The site Crime Reports needs little explanation, and new applications of geographic information systems are coming online all the time: Dog Parks in Chicago? Check. The roads of ancient Rome? Check. A year’s worth of data on ocean salinity? Check. And then there are the 800-pound gorillas of government GIS: Recovery.gov (zoom in on Washington) and the newer USAspending.gov (check out the construction projects).

Governing magazine is asking: “Is the Cost of 311 Systems Worth the Price of Knowing?” But the trend is clear: More municipalities are opting for Open311 systems. They are doing it for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most important one is that Open311, like Gov 2.0 is a platform—one with an ever-expanding tool set. Today, people are marking dog parks and broken streetlights; tomorrow, people might be programming their cars to share pothole data with the city. In addition, as demonstrated by the Recovery.gov and USAspending.gov sites, financial oversight and participatory budgeting are greatly enhanced when financial data is mapped. 

Open311 as a Platform

There are three attributes of Open311 that make it such a powerful platform for helping people understand data and make decisions:

1.      Maps have become ubiquitous. We have them on our computers, we have them in our pockets, they are increasingly popping up in both indoor and outdoor spaces—malls, parks, bus stops, public buildings of all kinds.

2.      Maps represent a very human way of understanding the world. People don’t think in spreadsheet format. But they do think in terms of geography and topography. Putting data in a table is a powerful, but artificial construct, it is hard to interpret and hard to remember. Putting data on map is an organic construct. It mirrors the way people actually remember and make sense of their world.

3.      Open311 allows people to add their own layers of meaning to a map because of its nature as an open platform. Not only does Open311 allow people simply to add various data sets, it allows people to perform actual analysis on a map—one example is a map that couples population density with average income plotted by location. That’s not just data, that’s analysis, and it is striking.

Mapping State and Local Budgets

One question that people want answered at every level of government is: How is my tax money being spent? This one question carries others within it: Is tax money being spent equitably among constituencies and localities? Is it being wasted on projects that are intrinsically meaningless? Is it being lost through fraud or abuse? Is it being allocated fairly through a transparent process? Mapping expenditures helps answer all of these questions.

The story of Recovery.gov is elucidating. Prior to the Recovery Act’s passage, a congressional oversight committee asked about the typical rates of fraud, waste and abuse. The panel was told that between 5 percent and 7 percent of a program’s budget was often lost that way. For a program worth $700 billion, that would amount to tens of billions of dollars. Yet the program lost only tens of millions of dollars, in large part due to the transparency of spending that was achieved by plotting every contract award on a map that anyone could access.

With the advent and increasing adoption of participatory budgeting, being able to put spending data on a map allows for greater participation and more oversight—increasing the legitimacy and fairness of the program.

 A More Participatory Government

Of all the benefits of using GIS for citizen participation, none may be greater than simply increasing the levels of participation in government. It is hard for people to see how their government affects their lives when all they have to look at is dry, text-based program descriptions. Show them a map, however, with discrete projects plotted in their neighborhood, and they will begin to appreciate that their tax dollars are being spent fairly and in ways that benefit them directly. And if given ways—both online and off—to participate in the allocation of their tax dollars, they will participate.

More eyes means more oversight, which means lower losses to fraud, waste and abuse. More eyes on spending will also mean more minds involved in budgeting, and more people involved in their own governance. That is the real promise of GIS for state and local governments.

Gadi Ben-Yehuda is the Director of Innovation and Social Media for the IBM Center for The Business of Government. Previously, he was a Web Strategist for the District of Columbia's Office of the Chief Technology Officer. He has taught creative, expository, and Web writing for more than 10 years to university students, private-sector professionals, and soldiers. He has an MFA in poetry from American University, has taught writing at Howard University, and has worked in Washington, DC, for nonprofits, lobbying organizations, Fleishman-Hillard Global Communications, and Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.