A Thousand Words

A picture is worth a thousand words. At least that is what we have all been taught. As a Geographic Information Systems and Public Administration professional, it has been exciting to see how many agencies in my organization are picking up on the potential for using mapping technologies such as geographic information systems to present a picture that shows how our constituents and our government resources are related.

A geographic information system (GIS) integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information (ESRI). The system relies on human operators and analysts to develop geographically referenced data. Geographically referenced or “spatial” data are data that tell you both what things are and where they are.

GIS can be used for scientific investigations, resource management, and development planning, as well as for evidence-based policy making. I have recently seen several excellent applications of GIS in public health, for example, where consumers (constituents using available resources) are mapped and compared to health care delivery points (hospitals, primary care facilities, etc).  After analysis, delivery resources can be adjusted based on actual usage to serve the actual rather than the estimated consumer population.

It is wonderful thing to see the looks on people’s faces when they realize the power of mapping the relationships between people and places. Usually it just takes a simple presentation of something like flu vaccination locations and high-risk populations.  Mapping flu vaccination locations and census block groups by elderly population can instantly show the power of the geographic information. Are the flu vaccination sites accessible to the elderly? Are the sites in places that have populations in need of their services?

I can already see that my office is going to be overwhelmed with requests for mapping assistance this year. It is a blessing and a curse, but it is worth the effort if we can make a difference in even just a few lives. I encourage you to seek out the GIS resources that are available to you in your agency. Talk to other organizations as well and find out what they are doing with GIS. I will guarantee you that you will find it to be a tremendous resource in your work as a public administrator.


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