Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Strategic City Planning through Maps

For my PIP seminar this week, I had the opportunity to visit Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). CMAP is a government organization that collects and aggregates data, then makes policy and planning recommendations for the city of Chicago based on the statistics they gather. Their goal is to use information to track quality of life changes and trends for citizens of Chicago based on a number of indicators such as health, education, transportation, and arts and culture. CMAP created a plan for the city called "Go To 2040" that provides suggestions for the city and its communities moving through the next few decades.

Much of CMAP’s work resonates with the work of Tutor/Mentor Connection. Both agencies create plans for
Chicago based on maps and data that can be visualized using sophisticated technologies. CMAP even launched a new site, "MetroPulse," in November 2010 where visitors can search and view maps and charts. It reminds me of T/MC's Interactive Map.

One staff member of CMAP, a self-proclaimed "tech geek," discussed how rare it is for a nonprofit to have staff members with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) skills. He emphasized how important it is for nonprofits to be able to base their services and their strategic planning on information that can be analyzed via GIS maps that provide region-specific indicators for issues like poverty, health care, and education. As he asserted, CMAP works to fill a void in the nonprofit industry by enabling access to GIS maps and data for organizations that don't have that staff position.

While most small organizations certainly don’t have GIS staff positions, Dan Bassill values this type of thinking enough that our 6 person staff does include a part-time GIS specialist. This is something that differentiates the type of work T/MC does from most other nonprofits. T/MC uses whatever information is available to help communities make strategic plans involving tutoring and mentoring. The maps that Mike creates show where tutoring and mentoring programs exist, where there is poverty, where there is crime, and a variety of other relevant statistics and community assets that enable leaders of municipalities, organizations, churches, and organizations to recognize areas of need.

While CMAP focuses on broad issues and general statistics to create a city-wide plan for a variety of issues, T/MC focuses specifically on what we identify as relevant to tutoring and mentoring youth.

During the seminar, several other PIP fellows asked questions about how CMAP connects its GIS maps, data, and recommendations to actually impacting change. My ears perk up since this is oftentimes a question that arises surrounding the work done by T/MC. How do our maps and articles translate into change? Is there evidence that this information leads to more high-quality, well-funded programs in Chicago’s most needy neighborhoods?

From my limited experience working at T/MC, I do think that the organization fills a necessary gap within the hundreds of organizations providing tutoring or mentoring services to youth in Chicago. Countless times since I’ve been here, Dan Bassill has told me about the ways he helped new programs get started or provided consulting services to existing programs. Events like Mapping Solutions also bring visibility to the needs in our city and provide information for leaders to make strategic plans that will yield positive impacts in their community.

At CMAP, the speaker asserted that the impact of GIS mapping is tough to track. It is hard to know when people use the information or when it clicks with the right individual. But he also spoke about some pretty tangible benefits that their maps and data can provide for organizations that I think T/MC also provides. For instance, organizations can use information aggregated and mapped by CMAP or by T/MC to use in their grant proposals to demonstrate needs in their areas. They can also use this type of data to help track changes and evaluate success of their programs.

This is just one example of how maps can be of use within the nonprofit community. But in order for this to happen, someone needs to be doing this work.


"Increasingly, job growth relies on the availability of well-educated, skilled workers for knowledge-based industries. We can gain a significant advantage by ensuring that businesses and residents here have the skills necessary to compete with other global economic centers. Providing equitable opportunities to gain those critical skills is among our region's most complicated challenges. Disparities in educational attainment, health, and other measures--often based on income levels, race, or ethnicity--put the entire region's economy at risk."

-From CMAP's "Go to 2040 Comprehensive Regional Plan"

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this Karina. I've read that the start-up cost for building a GIS system can run to $100k or more. We've spent far less and have a pretty robust system. However, without a sponsor/investor stepping forward to help pay for constant upgrades of the data and the technology the content will erode and not enough people will learn to use this. There are numerous additional ways the T/MC system could be used, but without the help of philanthropic investors, we remain at the entry level of maximizing this potential.