The open data portal increased community engagement by sharing up-to-date information on safety measures during COVID-19, growth and development for small businesses, transportation options, and conducting surveys about parks and recreation services.
Engaged the community to ensure that they stayed informed and up to date on community needs by utilizing the data received through surveys to drive decision-making for current and new programs.
Launched a business recovery program using feedback received from residents to support businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic. The program offered recovery grants, low-interest loans, and technical assistance programs to help both employers and potential employees.
How Open Data Helps Build Connections
aWhen the mayor of Gilbert, Arizona decided to hop into a DeLorean and belt out tunes “Carpool Karaoke”-style in a “Back to the Future”-themed YouTube video early last year, it was for more than just laughs. Gilbert officials were trying to get residents comfortable with receiving communications through the City’s social media channels.
In Gilbert, a sun-drenched city of more than 250,000 residents whose average age is 33, innovation, stakeholder engagement, and data-driven solutions have become top priorities. The pandemic underscored why. Whether helping small businesses survive or staff adjust to a new work-from-home normal, the City was able to quickly move into action. Its ability to do so in part stemmed from a strong data foundation built in recent years across Gilbert, located in the same “Valley of the Sun” as Phoenix. The City’s open data culture and infrastructure, as well as data governance and stakeholder engagement practices, were all in place prior to COVID-19. When the crisis hit, staff knew what data they had—as well as what quantitative and qualitative data they needed—to make effective decisions.
Its approach to distributing more than $9 million in hardship grants to local businesses struggling to survive the pandemic is a case in point. The City’s first step was to survey business owners to identify urgent needs and determine aid program priorities. With so many people shopping from home, business owners asked for funds to launch things like digital ordering systems and to obtain social media training.
“We used surveys to guide what kind of help would be best,” says Jennifer Graves, Gilbert’s deputy director of economic development. The responses ended up helping over 450 businesses in Gilbert receive grants allocated from federal CARES Act funds. Any member of the public could find out how those dollars were being spent; Gilbert demonstrated its commitment to transparency by launching a dashboard that tracked funding allocations to local businesses, nonprofits, and other categories.
Moreover, staff were able to leverage their open data training to quickly expand Gilbert’s robust Open Data Portal resources in ways that helped local businesses weather the crisis. In April 2020, just weeks after the COVID-19 lockdown began, Gilbert’s Office of Digital Government launched Help Gilbert. The crowdsourced portal allowed businesses to share information about their COVID-19 procedures and amended hours and services with residents via an interactive map showing what stores were open and how to support them. Nonprofits also began using the tool to recruit volunteers, and residents also contributed information to help each other find essential goods.
Launched as a feature of the City’s 311 app, the portal was in part successful because of many residents’ knowledge of the app, which involved crowdsourced local info and an interactive map. To build interest in the new mobile app in 2017, the City had engaged residents by creating a holiday lights map and inviting people to share photos showcasing their decorated homes. That encouraged downloads and familiarity with the tool, so there was less education needed when the pandemic hit and Help Gilbert quickly launched.