Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Jul-Aug 2019 issue

Using GIS Tools to Enhance Public Engagement

By David Sandberg and Ashley Hudson

When your city embarks on a large project, public engagement and feedback are crucial for success. With the internet at our fingertips, a wider audience can be reached, and public input can be collected and analyzed more efficiently and accurately.

Geographic information system (GIS) engagement tools can give city leaders more opportunities to gain access to new information and gauge how projects are affecting their communities. These user-friendly GIS engagement tools are easily shared through a city’s project website, social media, and email.

Why GIS as an engagement tool?

In our tech-savvy world, community- based projects need to have an online presence to effectively reach all demographics. GIS-based tools go one step further by enabling location-focused discussions.

These engagement tools allow community members opportunities to interact and get involved with the project. The more people use these tools, the more data can be gathered to fully understand the community.

Having the data in GIS format makes it is easier to create graphics and maps quickly, allowing project leaders to make informed decisions. GIS engagement tools also provide a method to export, allowing you to retain the public input for required records retention and data practices purposes.

The tools needed to succeed

Using the right tool for the right project is critical, not only for the city’s time and money, but for its credibility. It gives city leaders the ability to stand behind their developed communication plans.

The community experts are the residents, workforce, and others who have an interest in your project. The right communication approach encourages their involvement in identifying issues and developing appropriate solutions.

The following tools are effective at collecting, analyzing, and distributing public input:

  • Esri GeoForm is an application used to gather input on existing conditions within a community or project area. The customizable interface and tools allow users to add comments specific to a location and view previous comments, providing the ability to track trends.
  • INPUTiD™ is a GIS-based application that allows the public to provide comments specific to a location regarding design and construction staging alternatives. Users can like, dislike, and respond to previous comments, allowing trends to be tracked. The difference between INPUTiD™ and GeoForm is that INPUTiD™ offers the ability to upload improvement concepts and construction staging plans for residents to comment on.
  • Esri Story Map is an interactive, online collection of supporting information that helps tell a community’s story. This technology allows embedding of multimedia resources and interactive input opportunities into an intuitive, scrollable, online interface. This can be customized with text, photos, videos, interactive maps, surveys, and other elements to suit the project and community needs.
  • Survey 123 is a customizable survey template hosted on the project website and emailed out to collect project-specific input. Survey results are then visually summarized in charts, infographics, and maps.

Tools in action

The Dakota County- led Highway 70 project in Lakeville is expanding a two-lane highway into a four-lane divided highway providing connections to residential neighborhoods, industrial parks, businesses, and future high-growth areas. GIS engagement tools have been critical in collecting data through a wide range of demographics, while maintaining the data specific to the corridor’s location and summarizing it for public consumption.

The project team used INPUTiD™ to discuss issues and concerns with the public at the beginning of the project. In previous projects, the first public input received would be at an open house held months into the planning process.

Understanding issues prior to the open house equipped the team to facilitate a meeting prepared with potential solutions and information that addressed those issues.

When the City of Hopkins began working on its 2040 Comprehensive Plan, the project team developed a Geo- Form to gather ideas from community members of what they wanted their city to look like in the future. The form and a corresponding map were used to identify redevelopment sites, community assets, transportation concerns, and places that needed improvements.

This was an effective way to gather a lot of input in an easy-to-manage format. The information was displayed in an interactive map.

Technology enhancements have increased capabilities and efficiency, not only for collecting data but for putting it to use and summarizing it for public consumption. GIS engagement tools provide a critical voice for the public and others interested in your project, allowing them to have a hand in shaping their community’s future.

David Sandberg is a GIS specialist and Ashley Hudson is a planner/public engagement specialist with Bolton & Menk (www.bolton-menk.com). Bolton & Menk is a member of the League’s Business Leadership Council (www.lmc.org/sponsors).

Read the Jul-Aug issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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