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Government Technology: GIS Tech’s Role in the Fight Against Food Insecurity

With Thanksgiving days away, GIS technology has been helping cities and local organizations understand how and where food insecurity impacts residents in their communities so they can prepare accordingly.

Local governments and community organizations can benefit from using geographic information system (GIS) technology to better understand where food insecurity impacts residents, ultimately using that knowledge to inform their response.

Food insecurity is a global issue, but technology and data will play a crucial role in addressing it, experts say. Efforts to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of this work with technology range from chatbots to artificial intelligence.

As explained in an email by Emily Swenson, nonprofit program lead for Esri, GIS technology enables organizations to use map-based visualizations to communicate their work, improve understanding of need in a specific area to make operations more equitable, measure impact over a period of time, and mobilize volunteers for food deliveries.

“GIS is a system that reminds us how interconnected everything is — both the challenges as well as the solutions,” Swenson said.

As an example, Cincinnati partnered with 84.51° — a retail data science and insights company — and Cincinnati Children’s — which focuses on children’s health — to create a map that would illustrate food needs during the pandemic.

The map was first launched in 2020 using the data expertise of those at 84.51°, data supplied by the city of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s, and Esri’s software. The aim is to help individuals locate food assistance centers near their residences.

“The human capacity to serve is powerful, and it’s been on full display during this crisis,” said Cincinnati Councilmember Greg Landsman in the announcement. “Our partners needed a way to bring everything they’re doing together, in a single place, to better provide food and fill service area gaps.”

As explained by 84.51° Data Scientist Charles Hoffman, the maps used today were created to better understand need. The data team used census tract-level data to map poverty in the region, then layered other important data such as the availability of nutrition-related programs in specific neighborhoods on top of that.

“The key is to think of what your vulnerable demographic is, plot it on a map so that you have situational awareness, and then start plotting your supply over top of that,” he explained.

He added that this type of platform is something that is both scalable and replicable. In its simplest form, looking at poverty data and resources available, this could be replicated in other cities. In addition, the data could be used to help map out the need and availability of other resources that could help support vulnerable populations.

Click here to read the full Government Technology article.

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