Gov 2.0 — Envisioning the Future of Delivering Government Services

Restoring Trust in Government

A considerable amount of my workday is devoted to studying and strategizing around the Gov 2.0 trends. I have come to recognize that there are two distinct communities that approach the topic from completely different worlds.

The first group is focused on technology aimed at improving the delivery of government services. Its dialog revolves around concepts such as cloud computing, crowd sourcing, social media, open data, next-wave applications, and mashups. The second group acknowledges these technologies but is more interested in reminding government that it is failing its constituents. To this group, Gov 2.0 is more of a movement to change government, much like the Tea Party movement for tax reform. More importantly, this group recognizes that citizens cannot be silent bystanders if they want government that works for them.

In the middle of it all are the common citizens who don’t even know that Gov 2.0 discussions are taking place. Interestingly, this group is significantly larger than the other two groups combined. Citizens simply want government to be there when they need it. Common to the Gov 2.0 discussions is the acknowledgment of the growing distrust of government.

So what is the solution for restoring trust in government and delivering government services when citizens need them? How do we get citizens to take an active role in government? One Gov 2.0 group suggests we should throw out existing systems and start trying new stuff. This group believes it can do a better job than government is doing now.

I personally believe the geographic information systems (GIS) community can step up to this challenge. We’ve already witnessed the power of GIS in the areas of transparency and accountability in restoring trust in government. After all, show people how government is spending tax dollars or determining where to place government services in the context of where they live and work and their children go to school, and the world makes more sense. GIS professionals simply need to streamline operations while developing solutions using authoritative data to serve their citizens directly.

Can the GIS community provide a platform for engagement that empowers citizens?

Chris Thomas

About Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas is the global manager for government activities at Esri. He has worked in and with government agencies worldwide for over 22 years. He is viewed as a pioneer and thought leader in the adaptation of technology by government and citizens alike.
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15 Comments

  1. Learon Dalby says:

    I find it interesting that government entities loosely use terms like “Gov 2.0” and “social media.” Numerous man-hours have been spent developing policies to do the things government should be doing—communicating and interacting. The reason I find this so interesting is citizens (constituents) not only do not know what these terms are, they generally do not care. However, they do expect government to use money wisely and interact with them using the same tools they use every day. A natural progression is occurring with mail, phone, fax, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and video. How often does your teenager use a fax or even a landline phone?

    In the midst of the technology (as government likes to refer to it), the basic principles of interaction—ask a question, get an answer—have been lost. As I have begun communicating and participating with various tools, two things have become clear: (1) Not everyone communicates on the same channel. This means that government must interact using a host of tools. (2) Government is failing to actively participate. Messaging on various channels is just one step. Responding and interacting is the key.

    I believe geographic information systems play two vital roles in improving government and citizen communication: (1) Analysis—A map may not always be required, but analysis in the background to answer a question can be powerful. (2) Visualization—Showing where money is spent, crime is happening, or data is poor leads to more informed citizens. Coupled with true interaction, citizens can and will help solve problems.

  2. Dr. Alan Shark says:

    With public trust in government at an all-time low (especially at the federal level), government leaders have struggled to find better ways to communicate with citizens. It has been an evolving process, moving from merely posting better and more updated information to creating opportunities for transactions, then toward greater transparency. The latest phase adds citizen engagement to the mix.

    Today’s city or town hall may look the same from outside; however, the way we connect with government and one another has forever changed. The Internet and its emerging social media sites and tools have helped change the landscape and focus to a new and uncharted cyber landscape where boundaries and interests are no longer confined to physical structures. The savvy Web 2.0 tools that allow citizens to seek information, search databases, complete applications and forms, and pay for services or fines using a credit card are quickly evolving into a new social medium for greater interaction. No longer a time-saving and efficient one-way conduit of broadcasted information—we now have compelling power terms such as “transparency,” “citizen empowerment,” and “citizen engagement” that have enlarged the potential of Web 2.0 and beyond.

    I believe the current trend—if not handled with greater thought—has the potential to backfire, as some citizens are already sounding the alarms of information overload. Moreover, our democracy is buckling under a notion of direct engagement that has the tendency to bypass elected representatives and lead citizens to one central location in cyberspace. There is a need to think through how our democracy can be enhanced, not eclipsed, by social media tools not eclipsed. There needs to be a call for people in government engaging more directly with people in the community.

    This is indeed a wonderful and necessary opportunity for the GIS community to meet the growing challenges of contextual visualization at all levels. We have never had more data to ponder. Now, we have the tools to best integrate this data and transform it into something that can be used to help us more easily understand what it means and in what context. I guess it has never been truer: seeing is believing! Visualization is key.

    I think it would be very cool for Public Technology Institute (PTI) and ESRI to team up and create a contest and/or national (or international) awards and recognition program that recognizes excellence in GIS-based Web 2.0 applications that serve government and citizens.

  3. Bill Wolpin says:

    Unquestionably, GIS-generated information can help engage and ultimately empower residents and businesses because both groups can benefit from GIS—from providing transparency to how money is spent to helping local businesses grow through economic gardening, which uses GIS-generated information to spot opportunities. However, government officials who embrace technology in a way that fully uses its potential to advance the efficiency and effectiveness of delivering services is the ingredient necessary to catapult GIS-generated information into a platform to engage and empower residents and businesses.

    First, many government officials may have to deal with an existing governmental structure and mind-set that goes with it. For example, first responders to a disaster have the ability to communicate with each other but often don’t because of long-standing concerns for autonomy. At the same time, though, we see those barriers dissolving as other areas of government create cooperative arrangements where everything from technology to equipment is being shared.

    One of the common complaints by businesses selling to government is the length of time to close a sale. That concept alone speaks volumes about the inefficiencies of government, so encumbered by the weight of its bureaucracy—siloed fiefdoms with too much paperwork and too few people empowered to make decisions. However, add technology as an arbiter in a war between demands for more and better service versus shrinking government revenues, and you have the attention of government officials in a unique way.

    The goal, then, for GIS information providers is to engage those who drive policy decisions—the mayors, city and county council members, city or county managers, and technology leaders— to understand the value of the information being created to answer the older demands for service (fighting fires, mapping, planning bus routes) as well as the newer uses, such as showing how government is working in their communities.

    One area of common agreement for those who think about government more than the average resident or businessperson—technology developers and government reformers—is the goal of creating a more effective and efficient government. However, neither will be effective without government officials who see technology’s value and lead their communities to it.

  4. I think that Learon, Alan and Bill all make good points. But for me, the fundamental issue is one of human engagement. The transformation of Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and the advent of ‘social media and social technologies’ is built upon the idea of a ‘read-write’ web. ..a two way dialog…the true essence of social interaction and humans dealing with other humans.
    Our ‘real world’ friendships, business relationships and customer interactions, are based upon the concept of a Trust Account. Every interaction that we have is an opportunity to make deposits or withdrawals on behalf of that relationship. If we go negative, then the relationship deteriorates and all parties become dissatisfied. Trust disappears. If Government can’t get that part right, the new technology-enabled circuits of interaction and engagement will only add to the deafening noise level and alienation that we already experience on an ongoing basis.
    I think that the GIS community has already played a major role in the consumer/citizen acceptance of this new social web. ESRI, Bing, Google and others have established a level of comfort and expectation when it comes to the addition of ‘place or geography’ to the conversation. I don’t agree with Learon when he says that citizens ”…not only do not know what these terms are, they generally do not care.” I think they care very much and have come to rely upon their mapping applications to make their life just a bit easier.
    I believe that ever more advanced GIS mapping served from the cloud, empowered by geospatial analytics in support of everyday decision-making and community activities, will continue to proliferate and, in the end, contribute positively to the Trust Accounts of Government Agencies that make the effort to fully understand the new rules of engagement in the emerging ‘social economy’.

  5. David Swann says:

    The Australian Government created a ‘Government 2.0′ taskforce that generated the best report that I’ve seen on this topic: http://gov2.net.au/files/2009/12/Draft-Government-2-0-Report-release.pdf.

    It covers the tension between social networking trends and government tradition.

    Since that report was published, I think there’s a question emerging that should exercise geospatial professional’s minds: how can government agencies contribute to and benefit from crowd-sourcing initiatives such as Openstreetmap?

    I’d suggest that ignoring Openstreetmap would be precisely the sort of traditional government reaction that Government 2.0 is supposed to have moved beyond. A transitional reaction might be to ‘benefit from’ without ‘contributing to’. Surely the right reaction is to fall in line with the spirit of OSM…

    What might that look like? A government 2.0 agency might have OSM as a ‘citizen contribution layer’ that they use to see citizen-driven change occuring. By monitoring changes (edits) in OSM, the agency gets to see where the ‘official’ base map needs updating (that they might use for internal decision support). But when they make that update, they might ‘improve’ the citizen edit by refining the precision… and that improvement gets posted back into OSM.

    Doing this, the interest and fast reaction of the citizen works in tandem with government resource to create a better basemap for all…

    Or do we need to wait for Government 3.0?

  6. Daniel Betts says:

    My response to the need to improve trust by the people and support it by response of the Government using latest Internet 2.0 is two fold (but has many twists.

    1) Government in this country is of the people, by the people and for the people…..and in keeping with this basic truth and goal, we support this with the rule of law and protect it with the Bill of Rights (each of us is endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights)

    2) With increasing use of Technologies comes access problems….. in that not all people have access to the internet (please note the Obama Admin working on bringing Internet access to underserved areas via FCC).

    This brings us to the challenge of inclusion. The problem has been addressed in previous responses as to the varied forms of accessing Federal State and Local Govts (ie; phone, email, polling, and direct audiences with representatives)

    With conflicts of interest and unrestrained lobbying by large corporations and recent Supreme Court rulings that provide these corporations with extra voting rights (unequal representation) ……and unrestrained campaign contributions (newest ruling) ….the average citizen is not getting the guarantees of the Constitution and associated protections of his one person one vote.

    Until we look at the injustice that is being proferred and clean up our government (restore it to the level of even appearance of impropriety being a crime)….we cannot do a thing to restore trust.

    We need to get the money out of campaigns as it is no longer just absurd……it is decadence, and is not a measure of what is good for the country….but is defining only winners and losers with nothing in between that allows inclusion.

    Lets truly trust our fellow Americans……educate and teach them to think for themselves ……then we can build all the lights whistles and buzzers that make for great techo advance.

    It is now more than ever, important to let the common citizen be restored to a place of honor in this question of trust of technological advance……for without great leadership…….there is only contempt and appearance of weak leadership that is not caring about the people or environment or the future.

  7. Chris, As usual you’re a trend spotter. What you talk about is not just isolated to the US. As I travel around the world talking to our health and human service customers, they too see this as a growing issue – citizens in many ways have higher expectations about Web 2.0 technologies than those that govern. As you know, the health and human service sector has been among the last adopters of GIS to improve services on an enterprise basis. This important and essential sector has excelled in using GIS to discover and articulate community problems but they have not caught the vision of how to address major organizational transformation through the use of modern GIS. Liberating governmentally collected data so that it can be consumed side-by-side with relevant consumer driven data that citizens desire, in my opinion, what will bring ordinary citizens back to believing that their respective governments are working in their behalf and listening to what they want and need. As a friend of mine in public health always reminds me, “it ain’t about us (governmental leadership) but about them out their (citizens). The trick to increasing trust in government is making sure citizen’s want what government has to provide – and not the other way around. Asking citizens (clients, customers, etc), in a more modern and progressive way using Web 2.0 GIS techniques could go a long way in restoring confidence. At the end of the day I do trust my governments(s) but I often wonder if they care what I think since they seldom use Web 2.0 applications to push messages or questions to me about my specific community issues or expectations. I think that the GIS technology available to governments today can change all that if it is viewed by those who govern as a platform for community dialogue and not just another interesting mapping program. To answer your question – As a citizen I want to be convinced by my government(s) that they do care about my ideas (not just my vote and tax dollars) and they will adopt and use technologies, like GIS, to help them learn a great deal more about what I want. Making these Web 2.0 technologies useful for the “average” citizen (like simple iphone apps prepared and promoted by governments to communicate with the governed, must be a core tenet of those that govern in the new Web 2.0 environment.

  8. Skip Parker says:

    Geographic information systems have always been a critical tool for promoting civic engagement and facilitating citizens’ participation in urban, regional, and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) initiatives. This public involvement manifests itself as location-based input on community issues such as the best location for a community park or a public playground, as well as concrete information, for example: “here is a pothole” or “place a bus stop on the corner of Main and Alvarado.”

    More than ever before, citizens are being asked to provide volunteered geographic information (VGI). This type of community input or crowd sourcing can help improve government and commercial services. Creating or expanding existing information with GIS increases service availability to a greater number of citizens and can promote economic development and tourism while improving geocoding and routing applications.

    Community input by governments, citizens, and consumers is an ongoing trend and NAVTEQ recognizes its importance to the map database. One of the tools NAVTEQ uses to facilitate this input is NAVTEQ Map Reporter, an online tool available in 11 languages that lets citizens suggest changes to the NAVTEQ map. This map-based interface allows people to pinpoint places that are important to them. To maintain the integrity and quality of the map, NAVTEQ validates and verifies the suggestions prior to incorporating them into the map database.

    Government can help increase citizens’ trust in it by ensuring the data it uses for mission-critical applications (e.g., 911 and homeland security) is accurate and up-to-date.

  9. GIS providers, users, and partners have not only the opportunity but even the responsibility to participate in the development and support of responsible platforms for Government/Public engagement.

    Various Government initiatives and public activism have generated real momentum for the concept and actuality of more-transparent, participatory and collaborative government. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget OpenGovernment Directive
    addresses the three key principles of transparency, participation and collaboration. Likewise organizations like OpentheGovernment.org have formed to encourage and measure Government transparency. Information and data provided by government organizations must be trusted, authoritative data.

    However effective engagement between Government and the public or between members of a public community needs to address how to account for information that is created elsewhere, sometimes referred to as Citizen Volunteer Information (CVI).

    Importance of Data
    The front end of the statistical business process model published by the UNECE, discusses how data sources are considered for inclusion in official collections. Step 1.5 suggests:
    Check Data Availability: do current data sources their methodologies, to determine whether they would meet user requirements for statistical purposes. When existing sources have been assessed, a strategy for filling any remaining gaps in the data requirement is prepared.
    Until recently, many Government agencies have not been motivated to provide data transparency substantially because of the risk of disclosure of private citizen data. There are quite significant disincentives of being too transparent, inadvertent privacy breaches, and plain and simple costs. Agencies are becoming aware of the well-established fact that anonymizing data an inadequate means of protecting privacy in public sector information, and more effective protection techniques are needed before data is safely released for public use? See blog post Do government agencies know enough about the limits of anonymization?

    On the other hand communities are typically passionate and biased to a particular point of view which could result in biased and/or poor quality evidence. There is risk that inappropriate use of anecdotal evidence is presented as fact or inaccurate or intentionally biased mashups that use only selected portions of government data, Or mashed-up information is taken out of context or out of date data is used. See blog post Gov 2.0 for Koalas – Community vs. Government Data

    Platform

    Today confidentiality API’s and algorithms API’s now allow Government agencies to confidently share even microdata and ensure protection of privacy. Data exchange formats such as SDMX and DDI which are rich in metadata can reduce misunderstanding and misuse of data. Duty of care user interfaces can prevent accidental errors with data. Annotations and metadata can be used to ensure careful and considered use of citizen data. RESTful technologies can create stateless charts and graphs for sharing and collaboration.

    But real citizen engagement can come when data rich in GIS content can provide location sensitive meaning to the combination of Authoritative and Citizen data. Citizen involvement is usually focused on where am I or where is my community.

    This provides the opportunity and responsibility for the GIS community to develop and support responsible platforms for Government/Public engagement but it will take more than simply streamlining current operations. Platforms that use authoritative data and citizen data will need to overcome the challenges of privacy protection, misunderstanding or misuse of data and many more. The results will be worth it to Government and the pubic alike.

  10. Thomas Stefaniak says:

    I think there are fewer and fewer nonconnected citizens. I ride the Washington, D.C. Metro the entire workweek. I have taken informal visual polls about the number of people using smartphones. Surprisingly, 80 percent or so of Metro riders are using smartphones. People are using their commutes to get caught up with work or, more likely, surf the Web for something interesting. Increasingly, citizens are interested in stories and resources related to the performance of governments.

    GIS could form the basis of conversation. We see examples of this already. Associated with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, Recovery.gov provides citizens with information about which communities have received ARRA contracts, grants, and loans. If I were a citizen of city X and neighboring city Y received $1 million in funding while my community received none, it would beg the obvious question: why? The U.S. Census Take 10 Map provides another example. If my community is lagging behind a neighboring community in census participation, it would beg another question of why.

    GIS builds the environment that prompts citizens to ask questions. Further expansion of Gov 2.0 is providing tools for citizens to assist local governments. A project I lead at ICMA, the Knowledge Network, is collecting and disseminating best practices and case studies from the best-run and most admired cities in the country. If a community is lagging in census participation, it could be that it lacks the citizen engagement strategies that are prevalent in a neighboring community. An aware citizen activist could obtain the best practices from the Knowledge Network and provide them to local government officials. Citizens would not be simply saying “do better;” they would be able to demonstrate how to do better.

  11. Milan Mueller says:

    We at the Omega Group respond with an emphatic “Yes” that the GIS community can indeed provide a powerful platform for engagement that empowers citizens. We introduced our first public-facing cloud-based crime mapping and analysis application, CrimeView Community, in 2007. This application allowed the general population to look up crime activity anywhere in the U.S. In mid-2008, we partnered with ESRI (cloud-based geospatial processing) and Microsoft (Bing maps) to introduce Crimemapping.com, which broadened our public reach via a complete browser-based presentation.

    Crimemapping.com supports hundreds of police forces across the U.S. covering an aggregate population measured in the millions of citizens. While these applications are great examples of the power of GIS to deliver transparency and accountability on behalf of law enforcement agencies in their mission to protect and serve, this is only the beginning.

    For us, the fundamental transformation that all things Web 2.0 represent is the introduction of two-way interaction or digital dialog between the police department and the citizen, delivered through a browser be it a PC, laptop, or smartphone. As the granularity of our crime mapping and analytics for the public approaches the neighborhood or even block level, we have defined a road map that will introduce social networking, social media, and crowd sourcing capabilities that will enable the police force to engage its citizens directly in dialogue about crimes, incidents, and service response.

    As we introduce the opportunity for Crimemapping.com users to inject geolocated photos or video into the conversation, we expect that the richness of the conversation facilitated will increase dramatically and so too the insights that can be gained to improve police response and perhaps help reinvent crime prevention. Citizens now become an active sensor network feeding multimedia crime data to local law enforcement.

    I think that the most interesting aspect of this evolution to what we call the next generation of community-oriented policing, or Community-Oriented Policing 2.0, is the fact that it has something to offer all the stakeholder groups that Chris has identified in his original thesis statement. For the first group of tech-savvy stakeholders seeking to improve government services via Web 2.0 technologies, we are indeed trying new stuff to see what adds real value. For the second community of nontechnical stakeholders focused only on the fact that government is failing its constituents, we offer an engagement mechanism whereby citizens may take a more active and direct role in the delivery of services they receive. For the third and largest of the groups, who are oblivious to the Gov 2.0 discussion and just want government agencies to be there when needed, we offer a performance dashboard and feedback mechanism that will help instill confidence and trust.

  12. Cy Smith says:

    Yes, we’ve seen that it’s possible to provide a geospatial platform that provides transparency and generates citizen engagement. It’s happening in some places, but not in enough places. There’s tremendous budget pressure right now to eliminate frills, bells and whistles, etc. Even though the tools are readily available, the people to customize and manage the tools are being eliminated or repurposed in many places.

    I’m in the category that sees this as an organizational or governance problem, not a technological problem. The real issue is that government operates very inefficiently based on the silo structure. But the solution is not to eliminate the silos, it’s to institutionalize and formalize appropriate connections between the silos based on crosscutting, enterprise business processes. The technology to enable transparency and engage the public can be used to begin the process of connecting the silos appropriately.

    In many cases, the use of technology to bring together information from multiple government programs in one environment with a visualization tool is a watershed event. It often leads to more and more transparency, accountability, and performance management. Next thing you know, government is operating more efficiently, and it starts with the geospatial technology used to enable transparency. The lingering economic downturn presents a unique opportunity to convince leadership that an investment in geospatial technology and resources for transparency purposes is the way to repair the dysfunctional and unsustainable silo system.

  13. Dr. Patrick Bresnahan says:

    I do agree that there are two communities of thought focused on Government 2.0 issues. However, I believe Government 2.0 groups are less political than you suggest. In my opinion, both maintain technical nonpolitical philosophies at their core. I see one as a community of practitioners reveling in new tech tools such as cloud computing, crowd sourcing, open everything (systems and data), social interaction, and mashups, as you have mentioned. The other community I see is one of interaction between practitioners and citizens. Specifically, the second community exploits any technology to leverage individual sensors (people with a smartphone or laptop) in combination with government services to improve a condition. The first group (government geeks like us) implements technology to improve operations. The focus is, unfortunately, on the technology. The second group (citizens and service consumers along with government geeks like us) actively communicates data between each other to solve a problem. For this second group, trust is a two-way street as information is mutually relied and acted upon. The citizen sensor is also the beneficiary. The focus is on leveraged sharing of information to create solutions.

    Your proposition includes, in my view, a more political third group that embodies a general and growing distrust of government. You ask for a solution to “…restoring trust in government and delivering services when citizens need them.” As an observing citizen, I am not convinced trust in government can be achieved through efficient service delivery. I suggest that these two objectives, “restoring trust in government” and “delivering services when citizens need them,” are two unique challenges that may not benefit from immediate mutual solutions.

    As practitioners, we have an ability to improve citizen services through technology-enhanced interactive information exchange. I suggest we concentrate on such service delivery efforts. In improving services, I also believe we should be embracing consumer technologies to exploit their geographic reach as inputs to our official systems. To this end, I am not convinced that “authoritative data” is the only path to government solutions. If this were true, Government 2.0 becomes technology for the sake of technology. A great example of this Government 2.0 citizen-sensor concept is the mobile app distributed by several communities that encourages citizens to communicate the location of potholes to a local agency. Many more of these apps are surely waiting to be employed. Embracing consumer input and leveraging their data-collection/contribution activities to improve local environments benefits everyone.

    For all the tools we maintain to improve and enhance consumer-driven services, we must employ them to their fullest. To this, I can only assume that most people agree. However, and most unfortunately, now is the most difficult time in our careers to accomplish this philosophy. As local governments must adhere to a budget and cuts are being made through the course of each year, my colleagues are focused on maintaining what they currently provide. Few have the luxury to add resources or enhance anything. Although this ongoing crisis does present opportunities to do exactly as I suggest—embrace the consumer. Embrace their technology. Embrace their input. Just as GIS is not and cannot be controlled by any group, geospatial tools are being adopted by consumers through mobile product offerings. The concept of geography is just another cool niche element of a consumer’s experience. Leverage the adoption of geography in efforts to improve service delivery without major enterprise costs. The biggest hurdle to this acceptance is, as usual, institutional, not technological.

  14. Thomas Conry says:

    GIS has been and is increasingly a part of government services (as well as the riot of location-enabled applications that now pervade our mobile and desktop environments). For some time now, local governments have been pursuing and fostering citizen involvement via the Web with some success. GIS has been a component of this effort though its presence has clearly not defused the distrust residents feel toward government. The reality is that GIS alone cannot solve the distrust issues, but it can be used to help moderate the dissatisfaction and possibly engender some trust as government addresses other areas. Discussions about Gov 2.0 can help build awareness of the value of moving to newer technology and support for the cost of doing so. From my perspective, much of the distrust and dissatisfaction comes from three main areas: responsiveness, the rate of implementing change, and data (amount, usefulness, and timeliness).

    While the concept of Gov 2.0 is recent, delivering services and data electronically via the Web is not. In the late ‘90s with the growth of the Web, e-government was about information sharing and customer-centric services. GIS technology was a part of many of these e-government solutions. The ideas of one-stop shopping and 24/7 operations arose and are now widely used. In more recent years, discussion has developed about moving beyond e-government to a knowledge-based community.

    Today, many local governments provide a range of information and services via the Web. While some call this Web 1.0 (and, probably, Gov 1.0), it is the basis for Web 2.0 that builds on that range with user interactivity, collaboration, and dynamic content (among other things).

    Fairfax County, Virginia, has pursued e-government and worked to span the digital divide since the late ‘90s and its efforts have received a number of awards. That in turn has fostered more awareness of resources and the desire to enhance them. One example of responsiveness that directly involved GIS was the elected board of supervisors establishing the Land-Use Information Accessibility Advisory Committee in 2006. Some of the members had worked with GIS and county data prior to joining the committee and, as a result, were very informed on possibilities. The recommendations of the committee initiated a number of changes, including pushing more land-use information to the Web, simplifying access, and making 3D GIS available to the public.

    Timeliness of data can be enhanced by having end-to-end digital operations that can enable real-time or near real-time data availability. Having old or untimely data is frustrating for some constituents, particularly those involved in development and permitting. One of the driving factors for the land-use committee members was that they wanted to see the data in near real time. They wanted to be able to do their own analyses, draw their own conclusions, and have the information early enough in the permitting and rezoning processes to effectively participate in them. The county is now considering a data warehouse that will make all the information more accessible. Coupling this land-use and development proposal data with other relevant information (e.g., environment, crime, services) provides a more contextual understanding of an issue. This capability is not common in government today.

    From my perspective, Gov 2.0 is a limited subset of Web 2.0. Issues of liability, confidentiality, freedom of information, licensing, legacy data, authoritativeness, and budget constrain what government—particularly local government—can do. With that in mind, local governments can still make existing data available in a more timely manner without a lot of internal reengineering by identifying the easy wins. GIS can be part of the easy wins since it can readily provide the spatial view of existing data. Doing that can provide short-term gains while support builds and efforts are under way to make the more difficult and costly changes (replacing legacy systems and restructuring business processes and data). Local governments have the most room for improvement in the area of digitally submitted data. This ranges from site/development plans, street dedications, storm water/waste water system improvements, and permit and service requests all the way to relevant information for a 911 call. In the case of local government, the vast majority of the data relates to location and, thus, the role of GIS.

    GIS can further Gov 2.0 by providing the spatial component of a comprehensive contextual view. In Fairfax County, we are implementing a 3D application that enables users to integrate their own 3D building data with actual county data for visualizations. The application also has links to a range of land-use information so that users can access that information directly. While these links are to separate Web-based systems today, in the future they should provide a one-stop look, with the data from each disparate system being presented within the 3D fusion application. Legacy permitting and inspection systems now have some spatial capability, and plans are under way to completely update and consolidate them and their existing data.

    Yes, GIS will have to be part of the evolution of local government services and data. The pervasiveness of location awareness of our constituents and its applications guarantees that. The implementation of Web 2.0 and Gov 2.0 that proponents envision (at no matter which end of the spectrum) will take time and money—and, thus, political resolve. The Gov 2.0 movement can support moving farther and faster in that direction.

  15. Vince Breneman says:

    After almost two decades in the GIS business, I am still amazed by the power of maps to communicate, provide insight, and promote discussion. With new technologies making it easier and faster to build and host Web mapping applications and citizens becoming more familiar with these applications, the GIS community has a great opportunity to empower and engage citizens.

    I recently co-led an effort to build the Your Food Environment Atlas (www.ers.usda.gov/foodatlas) Web mapping application for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. The application characterizes the food environment (the mix of factors that together influence food choices, diet quality, and general fitness among residents) across U.S. counties. The atlas contains 90 food environment indicators, allowing users to visualize and compare how counties fare on each of the indicators. The application is designed to stimulate research and inform policy makers as they address the nexus between diet and public health. It is also for the general public to get a sense of how their county is doing and maybe start questioning why.

    While the technologies and tools to deliver this application have greatly improved over the last several years, the task of identifying, obtaining, and integrating 90 indicators was a challenge. Fortunately, folks from numerous government agencies, academia, and the private sector showed their willingness to help identify and share food environment data.

    So how can the GIS community operate in the spirit of Gov 2.0? In our case, we built an application around an issue. The mapping technologies helped bring the data together to illuminate and raise awareness of the issue, hopefully promoting dialog among citizens, academics, and policy makers. I think similar issue-based applications utilizing the full range of GIS Web technologies will further empower and engage citizens.