Oct 31 2022

NACo GIS Guide Emphasizes Best Practices and Advantages

The National Association of Counties offers insights into applications for geospatial information for local governments.

Local governments can experience numerous benefits from geographic information system use , including better insight into demographics and how data sets from different departments are related. But to maximize the technology’s effect, planning and communication are key, according to a recent guide from the National Association of Counties.

Featuring input from NACo’s IT Advisory Council, GIS directors and other local government and IT professionals, the publication outlines fundamental GIS considerations and is the second in a series the council is producing for county executive leadership and elected officials about technology that supports critical operations.

GIS functionality — which NACo defines broadly as the ability to capture and analyze data in a visual way that can be used in strategic decision-making — produces data that serves as a crucial component in 911 networks, computer-assisted mass appraisal systems and other government applications.

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Applying Geographic Information to Processes

Counties also use GIS-generated information in areas such as urban planning. The technology can help officials identify where economic development might have the most impact, according to NACo.

In Boston, a publicly available 3D GIS model of the city was introduced in 2018 to help assess factors such as zoning development capacity and the shadow cast by a proposed structure.

Some local government entities also use GIS capabilities to support citizen-facing services, helping residents locate vital resources such as food banks, for example, and find property information.

The Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor received a URISA Exemplary Systems in Government Award for its work developing an assessor portal, which contains a map-based interface and information ranging from the square footage of buildings to the year they were built and their deeds.

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The GIS services in Minnesota’s Polk County let residents find comparable property sale prices in an area. They also are used by county employees for tasks such as tracking mussel infestations in public waterways.

Because GIS technology is extremely visual, it can also be used to illustrate data-based projects’ intent and value, potentially helping to inform and engage internal staff members, municipal leaders and the general public.

To successfully integrate GIS functionality into county operations, leadership should thoroughly discuss the intended overall strategy and specific plans to utilize the technology with any outsourced or in-house GIS directors and other parties who will be involved in its use, NACo advises.

Counties may want to align stakeholders’ GIS return-on-investment expectations and also examine whether all departments and partners are sharing GIS software, services and information through the organization’s network infrastructure.

If some aren’t, NACo suggests investigating why. And, as with any other system, confirming that cloud-based GIS activity is secure is a good idea.

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Viewing GIS Utilization as a Long-Term Goal for Positive Outcomes

Pinpointing which operational aspects have seen a notable improvement in efficiency due to the technology can also be helpful, according to NACo. Some use cases might indicate other ways organizations could employ GIS capabilities — highlighting new areas where resources are lacking, for example, or additional ways to improve an end user’s experience.

GIS implementation can take time; organizations may encounter data exchange-related and other challenges during the process. Some procedural elements might need to be reconsidered to increase the results the organization ultimately gains from the functionality.

Essentially, NACo says, instead of viewing GIS use as a final destination, county leadership and elected officials should approach it as a journey. This can require continuous review, frequent conversations with GIS directors and staff, and a steadfast commitment to making modifications on an ongoing basis as the need arises.

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