Local and State Government

Map vs. Policymap

What’s the difference between a map and a policymap? We asked Stephen Goldsmith, former deputy mayor of New York City and now Director of Data-Smart City Solutions at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, this one day a few years ago, and he came back with an answer we will never forget, and often steal for presentations.

The difference between a map and a policymap is that a policymap presents an opportunity to intervene.

A policymap must show community leaders what action they need to take, how they move forward.

For example, this composite index on stress from the city of Philadelphia clearly shows the exact neighborhood that is most affected by multiple stressors such as asthma, poverty, low to no access to healthy food, high drug crime rates, and more. There’s no question upon viewing this map that we all can see where we should focus our resources and outreach. We know where to intervene.

When we know where to intervene, we’re able to make smarter decisions and start to make a difference.

To start building your own index on stress, visit Esri Maps for Public Policy for datasets.

About the authors

Christopher Thomas, Director of Government Markets on the Industry Solutions team at Esri team focused on state and local disciplines. He has over 30 years of experience working in and with national, state and local governments implementing technology. As a strategist and subject matter expert, Christopher works to identify emerging trends GIS can support.


Shannon Valdizon is the Marketing Lead for the State and Local Government Industry Solutions team at Esri. She has worked at Esri for the past decade with a team of subject matter experts and government strategists to identify emerging trends in government across the globe. These trends are translated into best practices for using geographic information systems (GIS) to help governments move towards a digital transformation. Shannon’s work has supported major initiatives with professional associations including National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, International City/County Management Association, National Governors Association, and more. Her most recent work includes initiatives like Smart Communities, Esri Maps for Public Policy, and addressing social equity which are all efforts dedicated to improving government efficiencies and more importantly the lives of citizens.

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