Calgary Asks Citizens for Ideas to Improve High Traffic Corridor

The Crowchild Trail Expressway is a major thoroughfare on the west side of Calgary. The City is in the process of conducting a Corridor Study with a robust public engagement component to identify upgrade projects that will improve traffic and travel while maintaining or enhancing surrounding neighborhoods. The project began in 2015 with open goal-setting and idea generation in conjunction with the community, and Calgarians shared nearly 500 suggestions in response. The City consolidated the suggestions into 17 upgrade concepts that could be applied to various locations throughout the corridor, such as no left turns or a tunnel between certain intersections, and needed a way to present the concepts on a map and allow the community to make an informed evaluation as to how well a concept aligns with project goals.

We used an EngagingApps mapping tool to display an interactive map with point markers and detail cards for each concept location. The display can be filtered by location or project type, helping people easily find projects that are important to them, and Like buttons on each detail card gives the City an at-a-glance view of the buy-in for various ideas. Clicking into a point sends users to a detail page highlighting the results of the City’s technical analysis, including benefits, impacts, constraints, and trade-offs,  a visual concept evaluation, and a simple infographic indicating the timeframe for implementation. Once people review that information, they complete a brief survey indicating how well the idea meets each key principle, and they can view the aggregated results of the survey via live pie charts that auto-update with each submission.

Next up for the Crowchild Trail Study is concept evaluation, which begins this week. The City combined the results of a technical analysis with public feedback to arrive at seven preliminary projects that could move forward, and they will use an EngagingApps Workbook to present even more detailed information about each concept and ask the public to dig into how well each concept meets specific strategies for meeting project goals. We’ll update this post as the project progresses and look forward to sharing the final outcomes of this collaborative effort.

NCDD #TechTuesday In Review: Using EngagingApps for Later-Stage Participation

Interactive Economic Development Strategy from Pennsylvania

On May 17th, we presented EngagingApps on a Tech Tuesday session with the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. Tech Tuesday is a monthly webinar series that helps dialogue and deliberation practitioners learn about online engagement technology and how it can be applied to enhance community conversations. We were excited to share our tools and talk specifically about digital participation during later stages of public process, when the discussions become more focused and unique to individual communities.

There are a variety of web tools that are are great for early-stage, open-ended visioning processes, including our own EngagingPlans. These tools are great for sharing basic information and asking for ideas and comments, and even for prioritization via surveys and polls. But authentic public engagement requires continued opportunities for participation as conversations become more complex and involve trade-offs that impact the entire community. For these conversations, there are significantly fewer options for tools that can facilitate meaningful engagement and generate the insights teams need to effectively plan for the future. EngagingApps is designed to address this gap, and we highlighted a few examples of how these tools can be used for later stage participation.

Crowchild Trail Corridor Study - Calgary, Alberta: This project received nearly 500 improvement suggestions from the community last fall and needed a way to present the consolidated feedback on a map and ask people to evaluate alignment between various improvements and project goals.

General Plan - Elk Grove, California: This project needed a way to confirm the areas of stability and transformation identified by the community, ask for feedback on potential development alternatives, and offer a way to submit a new area for consideration. 

Funding Allocation - Georgia DOT: This project needed a tool to communicate transportation trends and alternative scenarios as they related to financial resources, enabling users to submit a preferred budget based on interactive performance indicators.

Nonprofit Strategic Plan - JISC, United Kingdom: This organization serves universities throughout the UK and had a draft strategic plan that was ready for stakeholder comment and they needed a tool that allowed for collaborative PDF annotation and commenting at a granular level.

Economic Development Strategy - Altoona, Pennsylvania: This team needed a way to present their regional strategy online in a way that made it accessible, active, and available for feedback from the community.

After presenting these examples to the group, we had some great conversation about the capacity of our tools and digital engagement platforms in general to deliver various insights. Ultimately, every tool has its pros and cons, and practitioners should give intentional consideration to their desired outcomes and then evaluate a tool’s ability to provide the information that will help get them there.

Closing the Digital Feedback Loop

It’s all well and good to ask your community for their input, but neglecting to close the feedback loop can have an acute impact on the relationship between constituents and local government. Agencies and their consultants are often pressed for time and resources, resulting in prioritizing getting feedback over sharing feedback. We’ve recently released new features that integrate unique and simple ways to close the feedback loop with your community, helping you activate public participation and maintain high-quality interactions with constituents.

Results of an affordable housing survey in Boulder County

Draft Development Standards in Albany, NY

Live Data Charts

EngagingPlans now supports public facing live results charts, allowing participants to see an overview of aggregated community sentiments. These charts work in conjunction with surveys and Points & Paths mapping, helping people see how their preferences compare to others’ and taking agencies out of the messenger role to give users an intuitive view of overall community sentiment.

Draft Document Review

As projects progress, teams must distill public feedback and incorporate it into proposed objectives and strategies, leaving room for inadvertent omissions or misinterpretations. EngagingPlans now has a built in draft review feature, allowing communities to review a PDF document within their browser window and offer reactions in an embedded form alongside the draft document. This feature makes it easy for project teams to present draft iterations to the public, ensuring a late-stage opportunity to vet insights and how they are incorporated into proposed solutions.

Users Are People, Too: The Next Frontier of Digital Engagement

This article was originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of Planning and Technology Today from the American Planning Association's Technology Division.

When digital engagement first piqued the interest of civic agencies in the late 2000s, it was an aspirational but somewhat impractical notion. As technology capacity has skyrocketed over the last half-decade, online participation has become more feasible, but there is a danger of development for technology’s sake rather than for user benefit. While the possibilities may seem limitless, it is the end user experience that is the true measure of success for digital engagement. Citizen experience is enhanced through the use of intuitive imagery and design, integrated content and feedback, and by creating input opportunities during every project phase.

Highly visual economic development strategy in Pennsylvania 

Meaningful participation involves educating the community about relevant issues and opportunities to create context for their feedback. Planners must distill inherent complexities and help people understand how participation now could impact their quality of life in the long term. Visual elements like icons, infographics, and imagery draw users into the engagement experience and improve comprehension of technical details, decreasing the knowledge barrier required for meaningful participation and broadening the potential audience.

Integrated content and input opportunities in Fort Collins, CO

Advancements in technology now make it simple to ask for input beyond open ended questions like how can we make the city better? Consider, instead, an activity that consolidates complex information and presents alternatives in a clear, appealing format alongside targeted questions about the alternatives. The user is empowered to offer specific, actionable insights, transforming a potentially frustrating experience into one focused on problem- solving and bottom-up engagement.

It is easy to envision an early stage, digital engagement tool that asks big picture questions and places the responsibility for ongoing participation on the user. As projects progress to later stages involving alternative scenarios, design concepts, and trade-offs, feedback tools must modify engagement activities to reflect this increased complexity. Interactivity becomes paramount, helping users understand the impacts of their preferences through trial and error.

Digital participation tools hold immense potential for reaching and engaging broad audiences, but attention must be paid to the public experience of those tools to ensure constructive, meaningful interactions with government. By focusing on visual context, integrated content and feedback opportunities, and consistent calls to action throughout the project, digital engagement tools have the power to elevate user experience and improve the quality of civic interactions.

Colorado Resilience Planning Goes Digital

The Colorado Department of Local Affairs (CO DOLA) recently led the development of a guide to help counties and municipalities across the state prepare for and mitigate hazards by integrating resilience and mitigation principles into plans, codes, and standards related to land use and the built environment. Working with an Advisory Committee composed of representatives from state and federal agencies, local government, and other subject-matter experts in hazard mitigation and land use planning, this guide includes information from Colorado’s leading experts and represents varying community sizes, locations, and values. Recognizing that an online resource would both scale to broad audiences and reduce barriers for use, CO DOLA asked UIS to create an interactive website that presents the guide in an intuitive, visual format.

The interactive Planning for Hazards guide distills technical content to assist users in sifting through and processing a wealth of information. Users are offered a variety of options to access the guide on the homepage, allowing them to read through distilled web content linearly, navigate directly to specific sections of the guide, quickly access hazards, tools, and existing community models, or download and print the full PDF. Should the user want to find a specific section at any time, a prominent Table of Contents block is present on every page.

Planning for Hazards focuses primarily on identifying and assessing the risks associated with various hazards in Colorado, the tools and strategies available to help mitigate those risks, and model policies for implementing those tools. As such, UIS designed those three areas of the site to visually connect and reinforce their relationship through the consistent use of icons. Each hazard links to the related tools that can be used to mitigate it, and every tool page identifies the hazards addressed and links to applicable model policy language and commentary. Through these connections, the interactive guide facilitates ongoing use by making it easy to explore and identify the appropriate strategies for individual communities and relevant hazard concerns.

Creating the guide was the first phase of a statewide outreach program related to resilience and hazard mitigation. The Planning for Hazards team has already presented the guide at the American Planning Association’s national conference, and they will also present at a variety of state conferences throughout the year. In addition to hosting regular webinars to introduce the guide, the team is emphasizing distribution via academic and agency channels to ensure the resource is available to those who most need it.

The next phase of the project will include pilot implementation projects, using the guide as a tool to provide technical assistance and facilitation to select Colorado communities to help them develop relevant mitigation or response programming or regulations. These pilot projects will help the Planning for Hazards team assess the effectiveness and utility of the guide, ensuring that it stays current and applicable to the agencies that it is designed to support.