Normal, IL – Dec. 17, 2021 – The Town of Normal unveiled a new tool to help residents more easily learn where and how monies are being spent throughout the community.
The tool, a geographic information system (GIS)-based version of the Town’s Community Investment Plan, provides residents with a visual representation and description of capital projects proposed in the upcoming five-year budget. The effort grew out of a needs assessment identifying the existing Community Investment Plan tool as outdated and cumbersome.
"Leaders told us they wanted a more-user friendly interface that encouraged collaboration and was easier to update,” explains Vasudha Gadhiraju, director of Innovations & Technology (I&T). “This effort exemplifies the spirit of a smart city project by using the power of data and technology to create more transparency and efficiencies.”
The Town’s I&T, Finance and Communications teams worked collaboratively to create the new Community Investment Plan (CIP) tool, keeping the user experience at the forefront of discussion and planning.
“We wanted this platform to be transparent and easy to use. The result is a visually-appealing and intuitive platform that allows users to focus on geographic areas to learn about planned improvements,” explains City Manager Pamela Reece. “The purpose of the CIP has always been to coordinate efforts to maintain and enhance the Town’s investment in its infrastructure and public services.”
To create transparency about planned improvements, Town of Normal has published a Community Investment Plan for about 15 years. The previous version existed in an Excel spreadsheet and primarily focused on numbers. The new CIP provides a graphical representation of planned improvements with a more project-focused view.
The Normal Town Council will receive a demo of the new CIP tool and learn about proposed projects within the tool at the Dec. 20 meeting.
User feedback shaped tool
Using feedback from pilot users, the I&T team re-engineered mapping and spatial engineering software from ESRI, an international supplier of GIS software and geodatabase manager systems, to create an intuitive and informative system.
“The new GIS-based CIP clearly outlines proposed capital projects so residents know exactly where improvements and enhancements may take place,” adds Reece. “The community can use this tool to stay informed about how the Town is working to improve the community.”
Reece explains the revised CIP provides the Town of Normal with numerous benefits, including:
- Providing increased transparency for all users, especially the community, making it easier to find what is happening in areas of interest, geographically (e.g., by neighborhood) or categorically (e.g. Water projects, Park projects, etc.)
- Providing users with a comprehensive, geographical representation of improvements planned throughout the Town
- Contributing to collaborative planning culture by providing a foundational piece of technology on which other smart city efforts may be layered
- Illustrating alignment by specifically identifying strategic plans with which the capital projects align
- Automatically connecting the Community Investment Plan projects with the Town’s financial system, work previously done manually
- Streamlining operations with a user-friendly experience which is easier to update
Normal paves the way for other municipalities
“We took an out-of-the-box solution and crafted it to meet the Town’s needs,” says Gadhiraju. “The work we’ve done will easily transfer to other municipalities using tools like this.”
Gadhiraju says the I&T learned much by crafting the new CIP and she wants to share this with other technology departments in the public sector.
“We certainly like to think the Town of Normal is unique, but the reality is other municipalities can benefit from the work we’ve done,” she says. “We hope they will take advantage of the experiences we’ve had and implement those learnings as they streamline their own GIS-based software tools.”
The I&T team’s learning experiences include tweaking the software to allow projects to span multiple years and across multiple funding sources, eliminating the need to update information multiple times across multiple fiscal year entries. The Town of Normal I&T team also created a way to pull data from multiple sources to provide options for future tools. For instance, the new tool can track project estimates against actual expenses by comparing data from the CIP with data in the Town’s financial system.
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Note: Watch this video tutorial of the CIP to learn more about how to use the GIS-based tool.