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Using mapping to simplify the legislative boundaries maze

Interactive maps help make overlapping geographies comprehensible for smarter advocacy campaigns

At the heart of activism lies the aspiration to mold policy, but in the U.S., this task is as complex as the country's administrative geography. The path to change weaves through a dense network of overlapping legislative bodies – from city councils all the way up to Congress. In New York City, for instance, there are 65 Assembly districts, 13 Congress districts, 27 Senate districts, 51 City Council districts, 10 Municipal Court districts

Each layer has its own set of rules and representatives, turning the quest for regulatory change into a multi-dimensional chess game that demands both strategy and perseverance.

Neighbors on the same block can often belong to widely different constituencies, and navigating this complexity can be extremely hard for organizers trying to reach out to the right representatives. On top of that, elected officials change, geographies change, and the city doesn’t provide tools that warn about or reflect these changes efficiently.

Lost in the legislative labyrinth

Carroll Gardens Association Logo

Carroll Garden Association (CGA) is the perfect example of an organization that faces these hurdles whenever designing campaigns. Although based in Brooklyn, the nonprofit is actively engaged in numerous initiatives and partnerships throughout New York City and beyond. Their efforts are aimed at empowering domestic workers and tenants, striving for significant improvements in their conditions. Amongst many other campaigns, CGA is at the forefront of #Coverage4All, a proposed law aiming to establish a state-funded health insurance option accessible to all New Yorkers with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level, irrespective of their immigration status. This initiative is crucial for the 154,000 uninsured immigrant New Yorkers

With close to 500 members all over the city, the organization routinely struggled to identify where to focus their advocacy efforts.

Ben Fuller-Googins, CGA’s Deputy Director, reflected on these pain-points when we first met.

Every time we have to design a new localized campaign, we spend hours of valuable time manually extracting members' lists, painstakingly matching their addresses with administrative districts and then performing one-by-one online searches to identify the representatives to target. It’s a time-sunk that never ends, and which requires technical skills some of our organizers on the ground do not have. And regularly, our work becomes obsolete because of election cycles or boundaries being re-drawn.”

We thought that we could help. 

An interactive map with members, administrative boundaries and flexible export features

After listening to CGA’s needs, we proposed a map-powered dashboard that would allow the organization to:

  1. see the geographical spread of members and up-to-date membership information

  2. see members in relation to the city’s many legislative boundaries with their current representatives

  3. filter members based on legislative boundaries, on custom geographical areas, on demographic features (age, spoken language, gender)

  4. export filtered lists in a spreadsheet format

To help the organization reduce overhead when it comes to updating their membership and trying to relate their membership to the right representatives we:

  1. Made sure that the dashboard data can be easily updated by CGA staff, through written guidelines and team training. 

  2. Linked districts to an official online source that hosts up to date representative data (name, political party, law making history, contact information etc.)

Here you can find an illustrative version of the tool we built with fake data.

An affordable yet heavily customized project with a quick turnaround

The whole process - from collecting the data, designing the map, improving it based on feedback, to delivery - took North Arrow about 4 weeks.

Upon receiving the tool, Ben shared with us his excitement:

“This is going to be extremely helpful for our day-to-day organizing work, and will save us hours and hours. I also see this work as being key for our coalitions, and fellow members have already expressed their interest in developing similar tools. We are already using the map to finetune our strategy for 2024, and it is definitely a massive step towards modernizing our tools to become a data-driven organization.”

A stepping-stone rather than a destination

Working with Ben and his team has been a real pleasure for us. And this is only the beginning. On top of an internal map, we also developed a simplified public facing membership map to show the geographical spread and diversity of CGA’s constituency. In the near future, we plan to integrate this map to CGA’s different communication channels (their website, their annual report, their grants).

We also look forward to enriching this internal membership dashboard with other data points (ie. data on housing insecurity, on access to health insurance)  that could serve the organization in their mission of advancing the living conditions of domestic workers and granting them access to fundamental rights.

There’s so much to do!

One of CGA’s many campaigns, Care Forward, leverages the power of community to raise standards for domestic work at the neighborhood level

The campaign Care Forward leverages the power of community to raise standards for domestic work at the neighborhood level

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