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How Do We More Effectively Meet Human Service Needs in our Community in a Dynamic Manner?


By Jim Ferneau, City Manager, City of Burlington, Iowa

Every community has data.  But how do we coordinate the various forms of data we have on our community in relation to human services? What are the characteristics of our community demographics? What are the services that are provided by different social service providers from counseling to food banks? And where are there mismatches based on population distribution/demographics. 

At an Esri-ICMA White Boarding exercise this past spring, I and my fellow participants focused specifically on the potential to create an application that would allow us to map services and needs, with the idea that it would be a tool for our government agencies along with community groups and nonprofits that we interact with.  We looked at the potential to use this application as a device that tracked requests for services over time in a spatial manner.  This would allow us to see where resources were either lacking or in overabundance, as well as to see if their location was not consistent with the locations of who was using the services.

Our world has changed dramatically over the past few years; I am aware of how private sector entities use community demographics as they make decisions on where and when to invest.  The placement of a retail store, for example, needs to know community demographics to determine if there is sufficient density of their target market to justify locating a store in a given location.  This same process can be used as we think about whether a given location might be a good location for a park.  This same process can assist in running “what if” scenarios on whether a mixed use development in a given neighborhood has the potential to have long-run success. 

I have learned I need to ask more questions through this process; I need to ask my staff what they already know.  I also need to realize that some endeavors that we consider can be run through trial runs with the assistance of Esri, or other groups as well.  GIS is a tool with so many untapped benefits.  The data is already there, and constantly expanding.  We need to take the time to learn how to apply it.

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