Capitol Spotlight on GIS and Policy

Last week Jack Dangermond joined Esri’s policy team to host the first GIS and Policy event at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center. Nearly 100 policymakers convened to learn firsthand how the growing community is using GIS to inform and disseminate public policy.
Congress and its staff are increasingly relying on digital over print information sources, and naturally that drives demand for interactive data products. Most recently, this has led the Congress’s research institution, the Library of Congress, to expand its web GIS offerings. The Congressional Research Service’s GIS Team provides Congress and its staff with many GIS services, including cartographic maps, geodata, and interactive web maps. This shared geospatial analysis enables policy makers to identify how features intersect with proposed policy, and sometimes how those features intersect with a member’s geography.
Maps Communicate Complex Policy
Many communications, digital directors, and press secretaries use web maps to compliment legislative text. Offices are finding that a compelling, trustworthy map noticeably increases the number of times a story is picked-up and shared. Some are using maps to communicate complex policy ideas in an easy to understand way. Readers can identify with policy on a map, understand its impact at the local level, and decide how to act. For example, Senator Wyden’s Medicare Beneficiaries with Chronic Conditions interactive web map enables readers to understand how the standard of care for Medicare beneficiaries with three chronic conditions varies by local geography.

Visitors to Senator Wyden’s webpage can click on this interactive map and see the number of Medicare beneficiaries suffering from chronic disease in each state.
The map effectively presents a problem and encourages fellow Members of Congress to vote for the proposed solution, the Better Care, Lower Cost Act. The interactive web map allows readers to better understand research findings and compliments the report. Some have found that similar maps are effective to lobby national support on an issue or encourage a specific action.
Information Sharing Made Easier
Offices are finding more and more ways to communicate Member, district, and constituent services information through web maps. For example, Congressman Tom Reed’s town hall map was tweeted out to followers in early 2016 to highlight the town halls hosted by the Congressman across the district in 2015.
The locations of the 34 town hall meetings held across New York by Senator Tom Reed are displayed on this interactive map.
Senator Tim Kaine shared a Virginia National Parks Story Map ahead of the National Park Service’s Centennial celebration April 16-24, 2016. Senator Risch’s Idaho Map Gallery hosts web map services for constituents to monitor, like the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) active wildfire map service tailored to Idaho. Esri has organized a gallery of maps created and curated by Congress here.
Senator Risch’s website hosts a variety of maps for constituents to monitor.
Internally, congressional staffers are using web maps to understand spatial patterns in constituent correspondence and to measure constituent sentiment. It is important for elected officials to understand what constituents are saying in their correspondence, and staffers are using maps to better understand their district and its people.
To explore how GIS is being applied to policy making, visit For questions, or to activate your Senate Analytical Mapping System (SAMS) or HouseMAP account  login, please contact

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