Add National Online Mapping to Recovery.gov
The advent of online data and mapping, provides Recovery.gov (and the federal government itself) with a unique opportunity to take advantage of platforms that are fast, efficient, cost effective and accessible. Just under a year ago, we launched a national data warehouse and mapping tool – www.policymap.com – to provide users with online access to data, maps, tables and reports in a sophisticated yet easy to use web platform. Based on that experience, we have some thoughts and examples on what the Recovery.gov data and mapping application should provide to the public so that the result is not just a high-quality visual display of information, but an underlying searchable database of information for the government and the public. We’ve started to map stimulus transportation investments in most of the MidAtantic states on PolicyMap and hope to post a link to those later this week – in the meantime, check out some of our current work to see what we are talking about.
We would recommend that any platform used by Recovery.org to make stimulus investments transparent to the public possess, at a minimum, the following abilities:
1. Recovery.gov’s database and mapping platform should be a national online platform that allows users to see stimulus investments in a standardized way throughout the country. States have begun to create their own websites showcasing their investments (which is great), but they appear in different formats. Some have pdfs listing their investments, others have begun to create state maps showing investment dollars, and still others offer a series of tables showing investments by county. As these sites proliferate, it will become difficult to compare information across important planning geographies (like MSAs) or by type of investment. Creating a uniform format and then providing states and grantees with the ability to load their investment data directly into a single national platform will allow stimulus dollars investments to be both transparent to the public and easy to analyze across geographies and investment types.
2. Once loaded, individual stimulus investments should appear as clickable points or shapes in a fast, online map. The mapping component needs to be able to display the exact locations of investments (points or shapes) so that people can zoom into a neighborhood or city or MSA and see EXACTLY where the money is going. The mapping needs to show not just where the money went, but for what purpose, how much and to whom. And the location on the map should provide a link back to the agency that received the funds. The public needs an online interactive map to see where investments have been made in their city, neighborhood, block or next door. For an example, this link shows investments at the neighborhood levels on an interactive map. You can zoom, pan, and search for locations and click on any point to read the details of the investments.
3. The online mapping platform also needs to house information beyond just the locations of the stimulus investments. Federal dollars allocated to communities through the stimulus (or even other federal programs) should be a part of the platform and displayed thematically. Users should be able to simply mouse over any geography in the nation to see how much federal money they are getting. They should be able to overlay the stimulus site investments themselves to then see exactly where that money went within one integrated platform. For an example this link shows a map of Earned Income Tax Credit received by zip code in 2006.
4. When it comes to any conversation about investments in “place”, the need for accurate, relevant and timely information about neighborhoods, cities, metro areas, and states is essential. The government is a repository of great public data; information about unemployment from BLS, tax return data from the IRS, population characteristics from the Census and many other statistics are regularly collected and freely available. By incorporating this type of information in the online platform, users can see on a map not just where dollars directed at creating new jobs have gone, but see what the unemployment rate is in that area; users can see not just where homes are receiving weatherization assistance, but what the average age of a home is in that area, etc. This capacity gives the Recovery.gov site the potential to become not just a place for the presentation of data, but as an underlying tool for evaluating the impact of investments. This map shows an investment at a specific place layered over the vacancy rate. Combining context data layers is necessary to diagnose need and measure the effect of recovery dollars.
5. The platform must be searchable by the public. While Recovery.gov will need to display a series of pre-drawn tables and graphs that help to visually display where stimulus dollars are being allocated, the underlying online database platform must be searchable by the public. As states and grantees upload their investments information into the single online platform, users should be able to quickly download a list of investments meeting any number of criteria so a whole range of questions can be answered on the fly. From “How many energy investments have been made as a part of the stimulus in my city compared to another city?” “How have stimulus dollars been allocated by congressional district?” “What are the education investments being made in my neighborhood being used for?” Making information accessible and making information usable are two different things. The stimulus investment reporting must allow citizens to interact with the data in useful ways to answer questions about their communities.