SMETHPORT — Personnel specializing in geographic information systems at the McKean County Planning Office have created and maintain the county’s innovative Census 2020 Response Rate Dashboard that has gained national attention.
GIS software is mapping, spatial data and visualization programs that allow the user to analyze, store and visualize layers of many types of data associated with a geographic location.
“The primary function of GIS is to make maps,” said Sean McLaughlin, the county’s GIS coordinator. “GIS is the cartography of the 21st century, and GIS analysts or GIS coordinators is the new title of 20th century cartographers.”
In layman’s terms, a computerized dashboard is simply another name for an at-a-glance, easy-to-read progress report that is often found on web pages that allows the report to be continually updated. An adequate synonym of dashboard would be “infographic,” according to McLaughlin.
The term “dashboard” comes from an automobile’s dashboard, which contains the instrument cluster.
McLaughlin and Gabrielle Neubert of St. Marys, a GIS intern, developed the dashboard and its interactive widgets that allow the users to visualize and control data changes from the map in the middle of the dashboard. By using the Census Bureau’s response rate app, McLaughlin and Neubert can update a table of response rate and then transfer this data to the map that portrays the county’s 22 municipalities and the 12 census tracts, those small areas which are relatively stable in population.
“Using saved Structured Query Language coding scripts, we can make estimates in relation to McKean County and the impact of the Census over the next ten years,” McLaughlin told The Era. “Furthermore, by using these estimates, we can make additional calculations that include potential funding to be allocated and the estimated current population count — counted thus far.”
McLaughlin explained that an SQL coding script is a small piece of code in SQL. “We use SQL codes every day to edit and maintain the dashboard. For example, in order to calculate the ‘counted thus far’ field, a special code is used.”
This specific dashboard has been acknowledged by employees at the Census Bureau’s local and regional offices for its transparency, ease of use and the multitude of data that it provides.
McLaughlin noted that it has been recognized by Heather Conrad, the North Central Pennsylvania Regional Census Bureau Partnership Specialist, whose territory includes Clearfield, Jefferson, Elk, McKean, Potter and Cameron counties. “She also brought it to the attention of her colleagues across Pennsylvania and to the staff of the Philadelphia regional office, which covers multiple states in the Northeast,” said McLaughlin.
“The Philadelphia office also recognized the dashboard as a useful and worthwhile tool and shared it with other regional offices in the nation, gaining additional recognition and attention.”
The dashboard can be found on the county’s website.