Crowdsourcing Information to Improve Local Planning
As part of the European Union (EU) Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme's IMPROVE project on creating better public services, Donegal County Council commissioned Esri Ireland to help it engage with citizens more effectively on planning issues, using crowdsourcing technology. Now the council can capture local knowledge and give citizens a stronger voice in the planning process.
- Planning officers make more efficient and better-informed decisions about planning applications.
- Citizens play a greater role in the planning process as their views and knowledge are captured.
- Esri Ireland delivered the solution within four weeks using ArcGIS Online templates.
Like all local authorities, Donegal County Council needs to take into account a huge range of factors when making decisions about planning applications. Much of the information it requires—such as the locations of special areas of conservation and flood risks—is held centrally within the council's geographic information system (GIS), Esri ArcGIS. As a result, planning officers use ArcGIS to analyze the locations of proposed developments and identify any potential conflicts quickly and easily.
The council realized, however, that there was a lot of local knowledge about County Donegal that was not accessible via its GIS. Communities, families, and individuals had knowledge about certain buildings, fields, and even hedgerows that often was very pertinent to planning decisions but wasn't recorded. The council consequently wanted to find a way to capture this microknowledge within ArcGIS so that it could be taken into account at an early stage in the planning process.
Capturing local knowledge to enhance the planning process.
- More efficient council planning process
- Time and cost savings for developers
- Greater community engagement in planning
- Enhanced public consultations
With funding from the EU Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme's IMPROVE project, Donegal County Council commissioned Esri Ireland to develop a solution for capturing local information from members of the community, making it publicly available, and incorporating it into the council's core GIS-based planning systems. Esri Ireland achieved these goals by using Esri's ArcGIS Online templates Crowdsource Reporter and Crowdsource Manager to expand the capabilities of the council's existing ArcGIS platform.
"Esri Ireland brought strong expertise of working with Esri's ArcGIS Online templates, specifically Crowdsource Reporter and Crowdsource Manager, and was able to turn the project around for us very quickly," says Daragh McDonough, information systems project leader at Donegal County Council. "We also learned a lot from working with Esri Ireland during the project, so we will be able to maintain and develop the solution ourselves in the future."
Donegal County Council performed a trial run of the solution with a focus group of local citizens. The council then structured its crowdsourcing portal around seven key themes, ranging from the natural environment to transportation issues, with up to 12 different subsections for each. As a result, the council is able to organize the content it collects and use it effectively within the county's planning systems.
Now, the solution, named My Donegal Place (http://bit.ly/MyDonegalPlace), can be accessed on the council's website. Members of the public can put a dot on the map and enter local information on anything, from the site of a bird's nest or the birthplace of a local hero to a traffic jam. They can upload images and vote or comment on other people's posts, helping the council see which issues are most important locally. Council employees use Crowdsource Manager to moderate the content before it is published, making sure that personal details are not revealed.
Improved Efficiency in the Planning Process
Donegal County Council expects to be able to make better-informed planning decisions more quickly, as now it can—right from the outset—take into account concerns and knowledge that local people have. For example, the council anticipates that it will need to issue fewer requests for further information, which can delay planning applications by up to 16 weeks. "If we have more local information up front, we can make well-informed decisions more quickly, improving the overall efficiency of our planning process," McDonough says.
Time and Cost Savings for Developers
Developers and others who submit planning applications can potentially save money and time by using Crowdsource Reporter to better understand local concerns. If these individuals ensure that local issues are fully addressed in their initial planning applications, they will avoid the added costs and delays that typically occur when plans are refused and amendments are required.
Greater Community Engagement in Planning
Ultimately, the development of the new crowdsourcing solution benefits communities throughout County Donegal, as it allows anyone to engage in the planning process in a structured way. "The solution gives people a voice," McDonough says. "Esri Ireland has given us a fantastic new way of capturing local information and giving citizens a role in the decision-making process for planning applications."
Enhanced Public Consultations
Looking ahead, Donegal County Council plans to use Crowdsource Reporter during public consultations to give members of the community more ways in which to engage in the process. For example, the council plans to use its new crowdsourcing solution as part of the upcoming Letterkenny Town Plan Review. "Crowdsource Reporter is a really valuable tool that we can use to engage with local people during public consultations, alongside traditional drop-in clinics and events," McDonough says. "It will help us to get more people involved in building a shared vision for the future of Letterkenny."
Esri Ireland has given us a fantastic new way of capturing local information and giving citizens a role in the decision-making process for planning applications.