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The Reinvestment Fund Updates PolicyMap for Easier Use
By Andy Sharpe | Posted on Monday, April 21st, 2014GenerosityBlogImage

Philadelphia-based community development financial institution (CDFI) The Reinvestment Fund came out with a re-designed version of PolicyMap. The data mapping and analysis tool was tweaked to make it simpler to use and navigate. The website also has more functions, including advanced multi-tiered mapping and custom data tools, according to Maggie McCullough, president of PolicyMap.

The mapping tool represents various data sets, including demographic, job, housing and lending information, that are useful to policy makers and investors in particular.

Software developers found that PolicyMap needed a more accessible interface. The user interface has now been altered to look more like an online shopping interface for those who are not as experienced with online mapping.

User feedback led to the adoption of a full-screen map, as opposed to the previous map which was just two-thirds of screen. Legends are also able to be dragged, which enables users to see other parts of the maps. Three-layer maps, formerly known as analytics, stand out more and are generally easier to use.

Since the update, PolicyMap has added new institutions as customers, such as the library systems at George Mason University and the University of Massachusetts. These academic libraries offer all students and faculty unrestricted access to the complete PolicyMap through a site license. While these libraries have committed to PolicyMap, a number of organizations have signed up for a free trial of the software in the weeks since the re-launch, McCullough said.

PolicyMap has been assisting a number of customers and trial users in the nonprofit, governmental, financial, and academic sectors since it’s inception in 2007. A couple of local community development organizations that use PolicyMap are People’s Emergency Center in West Philadelphia and Impact Services in Kensington.

McCullough emphasized that many local and regional community development corporations and organizations elect to skip the paid version of PolicyMap for the free version. Over 80 percent of the information that is transferred from the public domain onto the software, she said, is accessible on the free version. Community development corporations (CDC) and neighborhood development organizations can use all this centralized information in grant applications and presentations.

For example, using the free version of PolicyMap, “[CDCs] can take the map to their neighborhood and toggle on and off the public layers, click on the map to learn more about how a place compares to the higher geographies in which it sits and create comparative bar charts or time series charts,” McCullough said.

In addition, the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation has purchased the program for all grant recipients, including CDCs like the Logan CDC, for a few years. These grantees receive full access to the paid version, and a report that analyzes how a community has changed over time, relative to nearby communities. “The report enables them to track key metrics including population changes, school performance, home sale prices and housing vacancy quickly and easily,” McCullough said.

The University of Pennsylvania was PolicyMap’s first university customer. Since UPenn, Harvard, Rutgers, Penn State, NYU, American University, and many other colleges and universities across the country have purchased PolicyMap. Municipal bodies in Philadelphia, Chicago, Phoenix, and Los Angeles have also subscribed to PolicyMap.