Of the 560 local government areas (LGAs) — or councils — in Australia, 368 have a population of less than 30,000 and more than half (296) have less than 15,000 residents.
The inescapable reality is that small councils do not have the budgets to invest in major IT projects or specialist teams in the same way that a larger council can.
But besides the financial limitation, small councils also face difficulty in attracting the right staff to their small, remote towns. It’s hard on two fronts, according to Ben Cowley, Leader of Systems and Technology at Yorke Peninsula Council.
“First, there’s the lack of dedicated staff; if a small council has an internal GIS resource, they are most likely to be primarily in an asset management or IT role. The second challenge is attracting talent; GIS talent is more likely to pursue a career in a big city than a small, remote town,” he explains.
That’s not to mention that for more remote LGAs, the travel distances make attending training or industry events difficult for council staff, so upskilling becomes a challenge.
However, in working with South Australia’s smaller councils, I’ve seen many adopt a modern web GIS approach ― usually through a combination of ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online ― to solve problems and provide value to their communities.
They offer a blueprint of how to get started with GIS without a major investment and are an excellent example of how the size of an organisation (or its GIS team) is irrelevant when technology is employed in smart, efficient ways to achieve the best outcomes. Here are a few of their stories:
Yorke Peninsula Council
Whether in crisis or prosperity, GIS has played a significant role in supporting the Yorke Peninsula community – a regional LGA, approximately two hours’ drive from Adelaide, with a population of just over 10,000.
The roll out of ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Pro across Yorke Peninsula Council in July 2019 provided what became an essential data sharing tool following the devastating fires in November.
The ability to rapidly collect their own data and incorporate state government data to deploy informative maps, allowed Council to support the ensuing damage assessment and response efforts.
“The Department of Human Services was able to leverage the maps to identify and locate those in need of financial support after the fires,” said Matthew Luke, Senior Systems Analyst at Yorke Peninsula Council.
“Normally, the process of identifying damaged properties would have been outsourced to a third party, taking months to complete. It now takes three days.”
Council has also been able to save time when it comes to citizen contact with customer services by making data freely available to the public via its open data portal. Farmers planning on taking their heavy vehicles out can find out which roads are accessible to them without having to call council.
ArcGIS Online apps are also being used to promote more than 500 kilometres of walking and cycling trails along the spectacular coastline from Port Wakefield to Moonta Bay ― a major Yorke Peninsula tourist attraction that supports small local communities.
“We’re looking to leverage Esri’s array of applications to integrate spatial data with imagery and/or video of the trails for greater promotion and user information,” said Matthew.
“ArcGIS is an easy to use platform – staff are able to produce great results with much less training and experience” added Ben.
Copper Coast Council
Easy-to-use applications have helped improve data accuracy and delivered key analytical data that has shaped Copper Coast Council’s strategic asset plan.
“All assets have historical metadata and a score that determines their lifespan and what resources are required to maintain them for the future,” says Tyson Linke, Copper Coast council’s ICT Services Coordinator.
“Using GIS in this way provides clear picture of historical asset information, real-life assessment and analytics, which means asset replacement or maintenance can be easily calculated and planned, simplified and reported to elected members and stakeholders in a manner that is easy to understand.”
Council’s response times to maintenance requests have improved as a result of the availability of accurate data and real-time notifications.
Copper Coast has also configured a number of ArcGIS Online mapping applications for road resealing plans, flammable undergrowth, stormwater and CWMS asset maintenance forms, with plans to roll out an online tourism application in 2020.
Tatiara District Council
Not only does a central point of accurate data allow for faster response, but it also streamlines maintenance workflows and eliminates inefficiencies in Tatiara District Council.
This small LGA of just over 6,000 people lies south east of Adelaide, and while it may have a small population, it’s area of 6,476 square kilometers makes it one of South Australia’s largest LGAs.
Tatiara leverages ArcGIS Online for field data collection which has improved its wastewater and asset management workflows significantly.
“Previously we depended on staff knowledge of where blockages had occurred and the maintenance that had been done to remedy them,” said Aaron Hillier, Director Infrastructure & Operations.
“Now we have a central-point of truth for all asset data that helps us predict asset lifespan and plan for maintenance and replacement.”
Road maintenance workflows have also benefited from having a single point of truth.
Leveraging Collector for ArcGIS, council staff are able to send out jet masters to the exact locations of potholes that require maintenance.
Tatiara also leverages Operations Dashboard to monitor all major works programs for council staff to view and get a snapshot of their progress – another example of a single point of truth that ensures everyone is on the same page.
These three councils demonstrate the versatility and potential of GIS to help any organisation achieve its goals, no matter their size.
For more information on GIS for local government, check out our resources page, or get in touch with our team on 1800 870 750.