"Esri Redistricting enabled greater public participation in the redistricting process."
DC Office of Planning Enhances Public Participation in the Redistricting Process with Esri Redistricting Software
Every 10 years, local governments use new census data to redraw their district lines to reflect how local populations have changed. This process, also known as redistricting, involves the redrawing of legislative district boundaries within a state or jurisdiction using the new census data. The redistricting process helps give residents a fair and equal voice in the way they are governed by ensuring equitable political representation.
For Washington, DC, the DC Office of Planning (OP) is the organization tasked with planning for the long-term growth of the district. OP does this by performing planning for neighborhoods and districts; engaging in urban design; stewarding historic resources; and managing, mapping, and sharing US Census data. A key part of its census work is seeking feedback from the public during the redistricting process.
Washington, DC, is divided into eight wards, each with approximately 83,000 residents and its own history and diverse population. Residents can participate in the redistricting process in several ways, including submitting maps via the DC redistricting website, offering testimony to an appointed subcommittee, or contacting a local council member. The previous process for map submission involved a public-facing web application that had limited functionality, causing challenges for the public and OP staff.
To simplify this process, OP set out to create a web application with Esri Redistricting, a web-based solution that offers tools for the public to collaborate and redraw redistricting maps in an online community. This solution has made it easier for the public to share their ideas and participate in this important process.
According to Joy Phillips, Associate Director of the Data Analysis and Visualization Unit at the Office of Planning, the expectation for public involvement in the redistricting process and the need for transparency have increased since the 2010 decennial census. OP previously used a public-facing web application that was developed in-house to gather public feedback.
In this application, users could assign census blocks to wards and see the resultant changes in real-time (a census block is the smallest geographic area for which the Bureau of the Census collects data). Users could also export a table containing the census block assignments they had defined.
However, the in-house application used during the previous redistricting process in 2011 did not provide adequate software-supported opportunities for public engagement and other functionalities such as enhanced editing, reviewing, and validation of maps. The Office of Planning also wanted a web application to better enable the public to participate in the redistricting process.
"The top priority was to ensure that the public could freely participate, fulfill their civic duty, and feel confident that the redistricting process was fair," says Phillips.
The Office of Planning team selected Esri Redistricting to enhance public engagement. Esri Redistricting is a web-based software that enables governments, advocates, and residents to complete and share redistricting plans. The office successfully deployed Esri technology in other applications and chose Redistricting because it offered a familiar environment.
Phillips says they also deployed the tool because it included expanded public participation capabilities to facilitate public engagement in the process, including tools for plan creation, management, visualization, editing, collaboration, and reporting.
According to Dennis Waardenburg, a geographic information system (GIS) specialist for the Data Analysis and Visualization Unit at the Office of Planning, setting up the application and training staff were completed in just a few weeks. The OP team worked with Esri experts to conduct a demonstration of the solution to staff and representatives and produce one remote training session to share training materials. Esri also helped set up and manage the hosting environment for the Redistricting solution.
"The solution was relatively simple to learn from the project management side since the OP team was quite familiar with GIS," says Waardenburg.
The team developed an array of training materials intended for a general audience, including government employees, elected officials, and residents. A PDF user manual was created with details specific to the office's use case, and the team held a series of instructional sessions via Microsoft Teams. A recording of these sessions was published on the office's YouTube channel.
"We found it necessary to create training materials and hold training sessions due to the complex nature of the Esri Redistricting application. Public participation would have been negatively impacted had we shared the application without also providing targeted instruction in its use," explains Waardenburg.
The use of Esri Redistricting has increased public participation and transparency. In the District of Columbia's 2021 redistricting process, more than 300 resident-designed redistricting plans were submitted to the DC Council using the application. Residents were able to generate their own preferred representative boundaries and view the alternative boundaries proposed by others. The built-in verification process in Esri Redistricting ensured that all plans met the legislative requirements for the representative districts in DC.
"Successful public participation demands transparency and fairness, and hence the importance to the Office of Planning in facilitating this process," says Phillips.
The DC Council can now share prospective plans with the public during the process. The team also enjoys the ability to share saved maps and export PDFs and images of them.
Esri Redistricting helped the OP reduce costs and save time on front-end development by not creating a custom solution. Waardenburg adds that the automatic generation of boundary text descriptions also saved a great amount of time during the drafting of the final boundary legislation.
Waardenburg says the new web-based tool improved the redistricting process and facilitated more collaboration between the government and the community, and public feedback has been positive. Users were happy with the revamped process, and it expanded the analysis and collaboration capabilities available to them.
"A redistricting process . . . is successful when the people are allowed to participate freely in the performance of their civic duties," says Phillips. "This redistricting process enabled the people to participate, as demonstrated by the number of maps submitted for consideration."