In an exclusive interview with Martin O’Malley, the US Presidential candidate, Bhanu Rekha – Executive Editor, Geospatial World, understands his strategy for using geospatial technology, as he sets out plans for the top three priorities of the US.
While serving as the Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland, what got your attention to geospatial technolo-gy — spatial data and maps on the whole?
I closely observed what the Police and various other government organisations were doing in New York. I understood how they were doing different things with maps on big screens, which actually helped them identify the spatial relationship between people committing crimes and police officers who are supposed to solve them. To my keen eye, everything that they were doing looked perfect, and I wanted to implement that in every sphere of my county. Yes, I did succeed in it while serving as the Mayor of Baltimore. The idea was to take this approach as a performance measurement of using a common platform of iMap. I witnessed the data driven management model called City Stat at the New York Police Department, and tried to implement it in Baltimore. In New York, they call it Comp Stat and it definitely gets the credit of decreasing the crime rates in the city. We, as government, just took that enterprise through all city governments and coined the term ‘City Stat’. It is currently being used throughout United States, even in small towns and counties.
This tool gets the benefit of increasing the quality of life in New York; how according to you has it helped in improving the governance in Baltimore?
At the municipal level, you cannot have virtual facades, which means many of the things that we do are actually visible to the naked eye — either the streets are cleaner or they’re dirtier; either the potholes get filled or they don’t get filled. On the municipal level, we were able to give people customer service numbers, so that they could track the completion of their particular service need. On the backend, however, we were following the executive method that allows us to check whether the service is delivered in a timely and efficient manner as compared to the previous week. Setting up benchmarks helped us achieve shorter term goals. And in a span of one year, improvement was monitored. We took the same method to the state level and that allowed us to operate more efficiently. The method helped us understand where to invest and whether or not the investments were giving us the required returns. For five years in a row, we made the best public schools in America and even made college more affordable. We were even able to reduce pollution. Improvement in public safety was achieved. We also used the method to turn around our entire programme for safeguarding the lives of young people. We called it ‘place matters’ to children, who are in need of assistance, instead of immediately pulling them out of a home and placing them into safe homes.
The goal is not only to make the data available, but visible and understandable to ‘all’ the citizens. This is why the open data movement is so important
Has geospatial technology given a better return of the investment it involved?
Well, we are still evolving and are still growing. But for the first time ever, we started publishing online and with the geographic coding, people could sense where the state dollar is going in their county. To keep transparency intact, we mapped all of our capital budget expenditures.
You envisaged informed governance, which demands a radical way of thinking and implementation at every level.What challenges did you face?
We are working in a system that’s open and transparent. When you can see who the leaders are, you celebrate them and lift them up.When the leaders point at the
scoreboard or in this case the map,noticing that there’s one area that is actually succeeding and achieving, the rest of the organisation notices that as well and starts following the leaders. This, I think, was the most important tool of all. People want to be the leaders and improve themselves. So, it is about allowing people to see who the leaders are and how they are succeeding.
There’s a trend towards open data and governance? What are your thoughts on opening up data and being more transparent?
The goal is not only to make the data available, but visible and understandable to ‘all’ the citizens.This is why the open data movement is so important. I have encouraged people in my government to open as many datasets as possible. Having said that, in every election, change is evident and it’s very hard to institutionalise anything, especially the news. Over a period of time, a shift in the way people perceive things is evident – the way the banking has become more personally responsive, how retail has become more responsive, how the Internet of Things (IoT) makes it possible for customers, consumers and citizens to interact more intelligently. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of crowd-based healing, crowdbased analysis and crowd-based actions, so to say. We would bring in stakeholders from the civic society and show them websites and give them a quick run through of all of the data that is available and the tools that were available that allows them to aggregate and analyse the data.
You are running for presidential elections, what A screenshot of the heat map feature on the Police Department’s updated GIS system according to you are the three economic challenges for the United States in the next one decade. How do you think geospatial technology can compliment or supplement those challenges?
I think, for complex and larger endeavours, it is immensely essential to have a unifying map and an executive method. People appreciated what we were doing through City Stat, but never actually followed it on the state level. We ventured ahead with it on the state level and it worked well across the range of issues such as security,health of the citizens, job creation and sustainability. I think, our federal government is in need of the unifying map and the unifying executive method at the centre of our federal efforts for us to ensure that we address the needs of the people in an effective and more collaborative way.