How to convince local government to use web apps?

08-25-2020 08:16 AM
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New Contributor II

I work for a civil engineering firm that handles a local municipality's engineering needs. They currently have a web app created to manage their MS4 network, but it is not utilized to the full potential. The municipality is required to map their MS4 network, but they are not using this data to drive other municipal decisions. My firm want to "sell" the municipality on the idea of using web maps for asset management, community planning, emergency services, and other projects - not as a mandated necessity, but as a means of departmental collaboration and decision making. I have looked into many different ArcGIS Solutions for Local Government, and it is exactly what we want to do for this municipality. However, I believe there is a disconnect with municipal leaders between creating the app because they have to and actually using it to make data driven decisions. 

I am asking if anyone has advice on how to get the municipality using these web apps? Why local governments are reluctant to use web-based applications? How to get municipalities on-board with the idea of using spatial data in decision making? What platforms are most effective (single app, hubs, dashboards, etc.)? Also, if anyone has some great examples of local governments utilizing ArcGIS Solutions and can share, that would be greatly appreciated! 

Thanks everyone!

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10 Replies
Occasional Contributor II

I would first ask yourself about your audience.  Where we live, municipality supervisors generally don't have much technical background (the municipality I live in doesn't even have a computer, only the secretary has one at her house).  They don't care about fancy tech unless you can explain in simple terms how it can make their lives easier, save them money, or help with any reporting requirements they may have to follow.

Either they may not know about the extra benefits, or it would require someone training them on how to do it.  Try to figure out their motivations.  They may very well know about it and decided they didn't want to use it.  Maybe try to figure out what their issues with web apps are before trying to get them to use them.  It'll make the "sell" easier if you have solutions to their questions.

MVP Esteemed Contributor

Sometimes the proactive approach is your only option, but that can be tough when you need to account for billable hours. If possible, can you take it upon yourself to create an app ( or find one online ) to demo as a proof of concept.

For example, I didn't know what a MS4 network is until I googled it and found: 

New Contributor II


Thank you for the comment. Creating a demo project is something we've thought of. The app you sent even gives me the idea of creating a storymap that demonstrates all the different types of municipal planning avenues we can go down in terms of web mapping to showcase how all the data can work together. 

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MVP Esteemed Contributor

I think what Kara Shindle‌ mentions about knowing your audience is extremely important.  Avoid technical overload and emphasize practicality. 

Consider these scenarios:

  • I used to work in 9-1-1 and there isn't a City Council Member on the planet that doesn't want to 'see' law enforcement calls in their districts. 
  • Bus stops in relation to senior citizen centers
  • Population distribution within a flood plain
  • etc, etc

Don't have the city specific data?  That's okay; search for different datasets on ArcGIS online and put something together with them.  Data acquisition can be part of the demo...

Occasional Contributor II

Thanks Joe!  My comment is filtered through the lens of being a Pennsylvania County GIS Director and my experience interacting with the 22 municipalities in our county.  In our area, most are local and down-to-earth; practicality generally ends up being the best approach.

Most of my municipalities want to know how we can save them time and/or money.  They are generally frustrated with a lack of resources for meeting their reporting needs to the state.  If you spin it that it will make their lives easier, they might listen more closely.

For example, I have several applications and things that the municipalities use, but the most popular is the similiplist one we have - an oblique imagery viewer with overlays of county parcels, road names, address points, and subdivision lots on it, because it is a good deal of information in one place.

As for what is most effective, Hubs, dashboards, and ArcGIS Online require someone to have in-depth knowledge of ESRI's cloud platform.  I'd start off simple, say with a single-app or two, and build from there.  For my field personnel, I created a hub page with all the apps and dashboards they needed in one place, so they didn't have to access ArcGIS Online.  They don't understand it and don't want to spend time figuring it out, so the Hub provides a "one-stop shop," so to speak.

New Contributor II

Great insight! I've worked with municipalities where the technology (or lack of) is a huge barrier! I don't think that is our issue right now. The municipality really supports the technology, they purchased an iPad specific for field collection, but the technology just isn't being used to its full potential. The data is there, but I think the attitude is "now what do we do with it?" Maybe the disconnect lays in the municipality not seeing long term benefits of a GIS for asset management. For example, we'd love to be able to use an app to monitor street curbs - the status, when they were inspected, when will they need to be replaced, etc. We have shapefiles to represent curbs and basic attributes, but they are not always being updated when new information comes along.

I like what you said about creating a hub specific for field work. I think there is a lot of field collection happening, but the field data is not necessarily making it to the web map. If there was a hub for field personnel to access the tools they need, it keeps them separate from AGOL, which I would help manage. 

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Occasional Contributor II

I think you need to show them the benefit.  Get them excited about it!  

For my field personnel, I set up everything under a project for Vector Control.  VC goes out in the field and collects data.  The Hub provides them with access to two desktop editing apps for when they are at their desks.  It also provides multiple dashboards that are updated in near real time with their collection efforts.  I also created a public-facing Hub site  (FCPC), which also pulls from the their data and a citizen reporting mosquito activity app.  This was done to show more transparency to the public, but it makes them happy because they don't have to do anything to populate the dashboards and websites!  The hub page with their editing apps is actually all on the same Hub as the public page, but it is hidden through control with group permissions in ArcGIS Online.

I'm about to start on another project for our bridge crew, and they are used to using paper for inspections.  Survey123 is going to change that!  Just pointing out that they won't have to worry about wind stealing their papers, or spending as much time in the sun has peaked their interest.  

It almost sounds like they are overwhelmed with the possibilities and don't know where to go next.  I'd guide them with baby steps to an achievable goal that has a high ROI, but is relatively simple to implement.  That usually paves the way to more complicated projects.

New Contributor II

This is fantastic! Thank you! I was wondering about the visibility of hub sites. For the most part, the apps will be private, but I'm glad to know there are options to control viewer permissions. I know the municipality wants to protect their data, but I know the value of sharing information with the public and want to push that when I can.  

Our principal engineer has been working with this municipality for years and he is overwhelmed with all the options and directions we can take this! I guess it comes down to pinpointing what project is a high priority, but also has a quick turn around and high ROI. 

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New Contributor III

In our resort city with a residential population of 25k and 11k buildings, our new GIS system more than paid for itself within the first month with what I called our "$500k Map."  


We're mostly within a regulated FEMA floodplain and were making application to the Community Rating System (CRS) program to obtain a communitywide discount for every flood insurance bill.  One of the CRS discount activities was accounting for open space (parks, conservation areas etc.) where development is restricted and calculating the ratio of open vs. developed land. 


Some deeded conservation lands and have triple credits. Creating this Open Space map allowed us to:

  • Calculate the individual acreage
  • Layer the different credits applicable to relevent parcels
  • Display the differing and sometimes multiple credits
  • Attach to each the qualifying documents
  • Provide the reviewers with real-time digital access


The credits resulting from this one map earned us a $500k community wide annual discount.  The entire series of credits earned a $3.5m annual discount.  This year, we made and even better Open Space map and along with other accumulated credits our annual CRS discount will increase to $5m. The initial three-year GIS lease was $90k. Hence GIS paying for itself within the first month.


The ancillary benefits from a public services aspect have been an added plus.

  • Spatially displaying for the public what documents are available for which properties and allowing them to access them 24/7 as attachments.
  • Identifying approved newspaper rack locations, with photos of each attached.
  • Erection and removal of temporary barricades.
  • Fluid inventory of all buildings (resulting in the building shadows now seen on various online mapping platforms such as Google, Apple etc.)
  • Event mapping (booth assignments, road closures, public safety positions etc.)
  • Unified street numbering feeds 911, building permits, planning.
  • Public parking
  • ADA parking identification
  • Detailed damage assessments to qualify for federal disaster recovery reimbursements
  • Cemetery plot data
  • Flood zone identification information
  • Old flood maps
  • New flood map impacts per structure
  • Historic structures identification
  • Ground elevations every 10 feet
  • Bicycle crash location analysis
  • Bicycle rack locations
  • Endangered species habitat areas
  • Political district boundaries
  • Zoning
  • Use of the Collector app to map just about anything in the field using cell phones & tablets.

Once you've got GIS capabilities, the list is limited only by your imagination.