City Scan Project: Students Use Pocket PCs to Survey Public Parks and Spur Municipal Improvement

LAS VEGAS, Sept. 13, 2000 — This week at the Go Mobile Conference in Las Vegas, Mobile Insights, a company that provides professional services to vendors and end users of hardware, software and services in the mobile computing and wireless industries, announced the 13 winners of the second annual Moby Awards. The Connecticut Policy and Economic Council (CPEC) won in the Government category by demonstrating that its use of end-user technology — specifically River Run’s OnSite software — provided a robust and interesting mobile solution for projects such as CPEC’s City Scan.

The City Scan Project puts cutting-edge technology in the hands of ordinary people, giving citizens the opportunity to improve their community. A team of seven young people was enlisted to conduct a high-tech survey of the parks in Hartford, Conn., documenting park conditions on handheld computers. The eight-week project was managed by CPEC, with major funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and a Microsoft donation of 10 Pocket PCs.

“What we’re trying to do with City Scan is develop a tool that citizens can use to take a hands-on approach to improving their community,”
said Mike Meotti, president of CPEC, an organization that provides information, technology and programs to increase the capacity of citizens to be involved in public decisions.
“Ultimately, we’re interested in developing a tool that can be deployed anywhere in the country, not just limited to Hartford or parks, by people who want to harness the latest portable or mobile computing technology to deal with street-level issues about their neighborhood, or their parks, or their surroundings that they’d like to change.”

When CPEC received a grant from the Sloan Foundation in New York for a citizen-based performance measurement, City Scan was born. River Run Software Group, which nominated CPEC for the Moby Award, developed the application the students used to collect data in the field. The company spoke with Richard Walker, CPEC research analyst, about using the software on the then newly released Pocket PCs.

“They told us about the new Pocket PCs that were coming out, and they were excited about it,”
Walker recalled.
“We were set on using a Windows CE device, anyway, but they said the Pocket PC would be a better handheld with a more robust operating system to put the software on.”

The decision to use handheld computers was essentially a given, Walker explains. Such devices would make it easier and quicker to monitor certain conditions.
“It gives kids a chance for civic engagement as well as access to technology that they might not normally have,”
he said.

Meotti said it was very important that the technology CPEC chose would transfer easily to communities everywhere and not require a lot of hands-on training or orientation. They also wanted the device to be able to span a variety of elements, including flexible data output, the Internet, printing and demonstrable presentations.

“It had to be both visually engaging, enhancing average citizen participation, and also flexible, to be able to be used by professionals, community planners and neighborhood groups, who would be addressing some of these specific issues raised,”
he explained.
“Once we looked across all those issues, a Pocket PC solution was the right one — it made it all come together.”

Microsoft was eager to help, said Kevin Sheehan, Microsoft technology specialist for Mobile Devices.
“think it’s great that we were able to participate in this,”
he said.
“The Pocket PC is a flexible platform that enables communities to develop applications that will do things like field-based reporting and data gathering. It’s a reflection of our ‘any time, any place, any device’ strategy.”

CPEC employed seven Hartford Public High School (HPHS) students and graduates as data analysts, who conducted surveys of Bushnell, Colt, Goodwin, Keney and Pope parks. Each student was assigned as an observer, recorder, data collector or photographer. Together, they noted problem areas as well as positive aspects, recording the gathered information on their Pocket PCs, digital cameras and video cameras.

The fieldwork was then brought back to the HPHS Technology Academy where the information was sorted, categorized and analyzed under the supervision of technology instructor Michael McCausland. Using the Pocket PCs was easy for the kids, he said, despite not having had experience with them before.

“The Pocket PCs are very user-friendly,”
he said.
“I was excited to be using them. It’s got me to the point where I have to go out and buy one now. After experiencing the technology, I’ve become dependent.”

McCausland wasn’t the only one excited by the opportunity.
“I was told about all the technology that was involved, and that’s mainly why I was interested in the job,”
said John Ciprian, a HPHS junior praised by his teachers as bright and technology-savvy. Ciprian was primarily interested in working with state-of-the-art equipment.

They told us we would be using the Pocket PC, which is a very good tool, and digital and video cameras.*

Confirming McCausland’s observation that the students took quickly to the device, Ciprian says that he and his teammates found the Pocket PC easy to use.
“Everything’s self-explanatory, and it beats having to carry around laptops, which are so big in comparison. You can’t be carrying those around parks,”
he said. “You just pop the Pocket PC out of your pocket and start working with it. I like the fact that it’s very portable, and it offers a few more things than the Palm.

Ciprian noted that the group has already made a small but worthy difference. He describes a scenario in which he and his teammates discovered an open manhole in one of the parks they were surveying. There had been no markings to indicate that work was being done.
“Some city workers saw us documenting it, and the next day when we went back, it was covered up,”
he said.

The kind of problems they found consisted primarily of lawn-maintenance issues — long grass, or rutting that could trip up hapless park visitors — and litter. The group’s findings and analyses were burned onto a CD and formally presented to city officials. City Scan’s goal is to spur municipal improvement by providing the city with a
for future maintenance and development, Meotti said.

The information can be reviewed on the CPEC Web site at . The students created Web pages documenting their results using Microsoft FrontPage 2000.

“We thought that by using high school students, it would make the project be a little more exciting and noticeable,”
Meotti said. “One of the things we’ve found as we’ve gone along is that if you create a project that is engaging to young people, you end up with a pool of volunteers, the person power, that can really be the spark and the energy in these programs around the country.”

Related Posts