Study Explores How Local Governments Use GIS

16 Oct, 2013 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Esri Australia and the Surveying and Spatial Science Institute back a research initiative to better understand users' attitudes and capabilities.

What factors have led more local governments to understand the importance of GIS?

I think the growing profile of the technology in the broader community has contributed to the increasing understanding of the importance of GIS.

For instance, the Benchmark Study includes commentary from Bundaberg City Council, and how they used GIS when the floods hit in January of this year. Council found the technology was imperative in providing the Australian Defence Force, Salvation Army, and Red Cross with an up-to-date view of the situation as it was unfolding. The technology also assisted in the evacuation of more than 6,000 people and ultimately improved tactical and operational decision-making, situational awareness, strategic planning, community engagement, and rescue efforts.

As we've discovered from the Benchmark Study, councils are happy to share their experiences with other councils, including the lessons learned. By doing this, awareness among councils is constantly growing.

Does private use spur government adoption of GIS, or vice versa?

Collectively, Australia's local governments represent the largest user of GIS technology in the country. As a result, local governments have traditionally been early adopters of the technology — and in many cases, they are the industry's driving force.

For example, the Gold Coast City Council was the first organization to implement a geo-enabled SAP system in Australia, and since then, many private firms have followed suit. What's unique about GIS technology is it can benefit organizations from any industry — from the health sector, through to finance and insurance, and even retail.

To what extent does the citizenry appreciate the value of GIS in government?

Councils are serving increasingly geo-literate populations, who have a high level of ease with information presented in the form of maps. Residents now expect to be able to access information relating to where they are right now, where they live, and other locations important to them.

I believe this connection with citizens — through geography — is a major contributor to why councils are incorporating GIS technology into their systems and processes at an increasing rate. For example, Gosford City Council has a public-facing online map, which provides the public with around-the-clock access to information that was previously only available during business hours, such as planning, zoning, sea level rise, and bushfire data. As a result, GIS technology has cut the number of phone calls received by Council in half.

Similarly, the City of Bayswater in Perth used GIS technology to develop Interactive City Maps, a user-friendly website that provides public access to the most-up-to-date and authoritative spatial information on the Bayswater area. The map is incredibly interactive and allows people to switch council layers on and off, including: photography, planning and zoning data, and land parcel and heritage information.

What are the benefits of a local government making its spatial data freely available?

In Australia, this is a relatively new area for councils, but I think councils are beginning to realize the value of making spatial data freely available, particularly when there is a need to communicate information to a community. As mentioned above, Townsville City Council shared information via a public-facing map to easily show residents the city's new planning scheme, giving them an idea of how the development would take shape.

On the other hand, councils are also starting to recognize the general extra efficiencies they are gaining by opening access to their information. The City of Melbourne, for example, shared its spatial data freely worldwide via the Esri Community Maps program — a global initiative which brings together the most-up-to-date spatial data from official sources around the globe, including New York and Los Angeles. The City of Melbourne's involvement with Community Maps has given every ratepayer in Melbourne, and the broader community, access to authoritative information about the nation's fastest-growing city. People can now freely access Melbourne's spatial data, which includes building sites, parcel boundaries, tree locations, and other layers which display the CBD and surrounding areas. Users not only have access to view the City of Melbourne's spatial data, they can also create their own customized maps with unprecedented levels of detail.

Businesses often have maps on their website of their store locations or the areas they service, and previously, they have had to rely on some online base maps that have not been regularly updated or verified. As a result of Council making its spatial data freely available, Melbourne's citizens and businesses now have open access to an incredibly accurate and verified base map which they know they can trust.

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