Six strategies your community can employ to become a smart community.
Putting in place a GIS platform and open data strategy creates the infrastructure for information sharing, solution creation, and innovation. The most solution-oriented, economically competitive communities will find ways to make their GIS platform and open data initiatives actionable by others in the community. These communities will actively work to become a hub of innovation by engaging with NGOs, start-ups, academia, businesses, and citizens.
Data provided by the local government can find innovative uses when put in the hands of local start-ups. Entrepreneurial thinkers are often willing to put time, energy, and resources into creating new solutions. If those solutions meet a real need, a small business can bloom and grow within the community, creating attractive new job opportunities.
Government leaders increase the odds that a start-up will be successful by finding ways to create an ongoing dialog. Start-ups will be more successful in addressing a community problem if they understand the community’s needs, comprehend all aspects of the problem, and have insight into how the local government functions. Is the local government likely to adopt and use a new app that addresses the problem? How should the new app feed into existing government information systems? By creating a dialog with local businesses, government leaders will accomplish better outcomes and find more useful solutions.
Partner with Academia
Academic institutions in the community may be an untapped source of skills and innovation. Universities have talented researchers who want to solve important, realworld problems. By engaging with students and researchers, local governments can activate potentially underutilized local resources, stimulate creative solutions, sharpen the skills of students, and introduce students to job opportunities so they don’t leave the community after graduation.
Universities have their own incentives to be engaged community partners. They want to demonstrate that they are economic engines in the community and attract entrepreneurially minded students and professors. Some forward-thinking universities are creating programs for nurturing start-ups that begin on campus and helping them successfully transition into the local business community. Government leaders can leverage, encourage, and promote these programs. By sharing the problems that need to be addressed along with the authoritative data needed to address them, community leaders give researchers the projects and entrepreneurial opportunities they can really sink their teeth into.
Open data platforms and public-facing applications not only provide greater transparency but can also stimulate community involvement. When citizens don’t have access to information, they tend to be more critical of government decisions. Providing information helps all parties operate from a common base of understanding grounded in fact and creates the transparency citizens are requesting.
Longtime residents might not realize how much their community has changed over time and thus form their policy opinions based on outdated information. Leaders can communicate a lot of information quickly and effectively by using maps to display data, trends, and analyses. Informing citizens is important, especially as communities generate plans for the future and seek participation from citizens in shaping and approving those plans.
Citizens can also use map-based web and mobile apps to provide data back to local governments. A person walking down the street can pull out a smartphone and report graffiti directly to the city or provide ideas for improving a park. A new trend is to ask citizens to volunteer to capture data voluntarily using their smartphones. In some cities, citizens’ smartphones are being used as sensors to relay data about the environment. Capturing this citizen-generated data and feeding it back into the GIS platform can help local governments and business professionals determine how to change designs and better allocate resources.
Boost the Effectiveness of NGOs
NGOs play a role in creating smart, inclusive communities; influencing policy decisions; and providing resources where there is a gap the public sector cannot fill. NGOs would also benefit from government-collected data. In many cases, NGOs are surprised and impressed by the data that government agencies have available. When creating an open data platform and sharing location-based data about community needs, governments empower NGOs to operate more effectively.
Similarly, local government agencies can benefit from the data collected by NGOs about population needs and resource usage. For example, regional food bank organizations can relay how many citizens they are serving and give government another measure of data on poverty and citizen needs. By sharing information, local governments and NGOs can collaborate to find better solutions and build a smarter community.
Support the Business Community
Businesses within the community can benefit from the most up-to-date information on issues such as zoning rules, contract-bid opportunities, land-use plans, taxation, and other factors that might affect growth or operations. For example, changes in local infrastructure can greatly impact the business community. Greater access to development plans and maps will help inform business planning and open up opportunity for business leaders to provide constructive input into the planning process.
Create an Interconnected, Engaged Community
A GIS platform gives business stakeholders the latest authoritative information. Most business leaders need to see and understand opportunities and rules, often in terms of location. Maps provide a vehicle for that dialog.
Local governments can use the GIS platform, open data, and apps as vehicles to stimulate dialog with NGOs, citizens, academia, businesses, and start-ups. Those same tools can be used to bring multiple parties together in exciting combinations for even more synergy. An NGO might engage a group of business leaders in a community project, or leaders in academia might use government data and resources to find solutions for the business community. The different engagement combinations create a stronger community fabric