Australia's largest university uses interactive photo map to engage students

It’s the start of a new semester. College students in Australia are signing in, posting photos, taking fun quizzes, jockeying for position on the leaderboard, commenting, rating, and sharing. But they’re not doing these things on a social network as you might expect. It’s an engagement website for their school, and it turns “student involvement” into a playful, approachable experience. It’s also a brilliant example of a prestigious institution reaching out to connect with students at their level and in their “language” - using the interactive, social, place-based, interest-guided elements found in the most meaningful online experiences today.

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The Learnery, just launched by The Australian National University (ANU), is an involvement website where students can help “cultivate the learning experience” by sharing photos and feedback about what makes an ideal learning environment. ANU is Australia’s largest university, but it wears its prestige lightly, maintaining an approachable online presence that encourages exploration and communication. The Learnery was launched as a photo contest and is already filling up with the images, comments, and thoughts of the student body that will be frequenting ANU’s campuses this year. The submissions will be used to help shape the school’s environment to best suit the needs of students.

The photo contest is powered by VividMaps, a tool that allows organizations to easily launch collaborative maps for promoting local places. Visitors to The Learnery can explore pinpoints on the zoomable map, click to find out more about a particular photo and read the comments, or filter by the daily themes. It’s mobile optimized too, so students can discover what special spots are nearby when they’re walking around campus - connecting online and offline experience. The photo map combines social, mobile, and gaming elements that together create an engaging start-of-semester activity.

Read all about the project right here at EngagingCities.

Webinar: New Communication Strategies for Effective Public Engagement

Want to learn how to put complex documents online in fun, engaging ways that help your audience understand and respond to the content? Register now for our Friday webinar:

MARCH 8, 2014 from 1:00pm - 2:30pm

Planners currently use a variety of engagement tools for gathering public input. But reports, drafts and published plans all are still communicated in very traditional forms - long, jargon-filled documents with limited ways to explore or comment. Even beautiful and well-designed PDF plan documents can miss communicating the true findings, because they are stuck in one dimension with long, dense blocks of text. Interactive media, instant publishing, and social media have changed the way people consume and process information - raising expectations for how planners should communicate. Think about the New York Times’ long-form journalism: short videos, interactive maps and charts, and other rich media. What if we communicated plans like that?

During this webinar, we will:

1. Begin by exploring inspiring possibilities for communicating complex topics, scenarios, and plan documents in simple, intuitive ways; this overview draws from strong engagement principles and summarizes “what you need to know” when planning and budgeting;

2. Specifically discover how interaction design, gamification, and publishing for different devices can reach more (and more diverse) audiences compared to traditional media;

3. Share examples of data visualization techniques to more effectively showcase findings and results; and

4. Open the “floor” for participants to share their experiences, challenges, and ideas. Each focus area will be presented around promising examples of recent planning projects from around North America and feature key takeaways that planners can start using today.

We hope you can join us on Friday - register here!

Transportation study aims to update a major thoroughfare - and also its plan documents

College Avenue - the most traveled thoroughfare in the city of Fort Collins, Colorado - is being transformed from an aging avenue to a world-class street. “Midtown in Motion” is a transportation study, the second phase of a broad plan by the city to increase mobility, safety, and beauty along this corridor. The majority of the street design is over 50 years old, it’s time for an update.

The concept of staying up-to-date is also true for the documents used to communicate such plans to the public. After all, if great design and modern technology will be key drivers in making College Avenue accessible and user-friendly, the materials used to convey and discuss these changes should be defined by the same elements - especially when public feedback is desired. Too often, momentous project plans are presented as a list of static PDF links and text-heavy web copy, which fail to convey the excitement and vitality of the plan. Public input is usually collected separately, and getting feedback can be difficult, as most citizens aren’t up to wading through long documents that require time to download and decipher.

There’s a better way. Like College Avenue itself, the online documents for the transportation study will be in keeping with the times. That’s because the City of Fort Collins is using BrightPages to present the plan content in a fun, engaging way - ensuring maximum citizen comprehension and participation. Instead of being overwhelmed with pages of information upon entering the project website, users will see bright infographics and simple headings that make it easy to navigate to areas that interest them. Whether walking, biking, or driving is their preferred mobility focus, they can jump to parts of the plan that contain those elements. Or they can explore how the plan will affect certain districts and intersections, making use of zoomable maps and colorful renderings that make the information easy to digest.

Most importantly, feedback happens right alongside the information on the project website - definitely an update from the old methods of creating forums or surveys separately, hoping people will follow the links and offer their opinions. “Midtown in Motion” is more than a transportation study - it’s a conversation between planners and public, offering feedback opportunities on every page. Questions like “Does this improve College Avenue?” and “Do you like this part of the plan?” give citizens a chance to comment immediately on specific aspects of the study, with no need to exit the website or do anything other than join the conversation. Oh yes, and it’s all optimized for mobile, too.

Just like the streets, town centers, and systems they aim to improve, plan documents need to be brought into the 21st century. They need to be made accessible, fun, and beautiful. Plan documents come to life with BrightPages - which helps beloved public spaces like College Avenue come back to life, too.

Pipeline expansion project calls for mobile public outreach

EngagingPlans Case Study

Enbridge GTA Project

Client

Enbridge Gas Distribution has been serving the communities of Ontario, Canada for over 160 years. The company delivers natural gas to more than two million homes and businesses across the province and maintains a network of underground distribution pipelines. Enbridge expands their network as necessary to meet the needs of the growing communities in their service area.

Challenge

Enbridge is committed to maintaining strong relationships with stakeholders and citizens. This requires openness and communication with the public, especially when new projects are underway. Recent growth in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has created a need for Enbridge to expand its pipelines - a project that will impact the surrounding community as construction commences. Routes for the project were selected to cause the least potential for conflict with existing land uses, traffic, vegetation, and businesses. Nevertheless, this type of expansion will naturally raise a myriad of questions and concerns from the public.

Enbridge sought a solution that would facilitate above-average public engagement for the duration of the GTA Project. Since most people now expect to find information online, a website was needed where all relevant material - updates, maps, videos, documents, events, response forms - could be accessed in one place. Far from just putting a few links on the company website or posting fliers at the construction sites, Enbridge sought to create a public conversation around the GTA Project that would facilitate meaningful communication and feedback.

Solution

Rather than expending the manpower and resources required to launch an entire project website from scratch, Enbridge turned to EngagingPlans for an out-of-the-box solution to highlight every aspect of the GTA Project and invite public involvement. Easily launched and maintained with no special tech skills needed, our EngagingPlans site allows customization by Enbridge, using photos, branding, social media, and other content to give the site a local feel.

The new GTA Project website makes it simple for users to search for specific project information, leave comments, browse relevant documents and maps, view upcoming events like public meetings, or sign up for e-mail newsletters - and it’s all mobile optimized for flawless viewing at home, work, or on the go. From legal files to video updates to pre-construction tree-removal notices, EngagingPlans brings the information together in a way that’s easy for citizens to digest, search, and respond to. This is the ideal solution for short-term projects that require thoughtful public engagement.

GTA Project Site

Benefits

For companies or developers whose work impacts the surrounding community, an EngagingPlans website helps keep the lines of communication open, for a reasonable cost. Involving citizens in the planning process is easy with EngagingPlans:

  • Project information is easily accessible to anyone, even on-the-go

  • Search feature lets users quickly locate specific information

  • Feedback and questions are easily submitted right from the project website

  • Intuitive administration for easy launch and maintenance, with no special tech skills required

  • Stay-in-touch options like e-mail updates and social media for citizens who want to be in the loop

  • Company or developer maintains reputation for good communication efforts and public involvement

  • Project site launched with minimal expense and no long-term commitment

EngagingPlans starts at just $75 per month and can be scaled to meet the needs of large enterprises. Find out more or schedule a demo!


Residents of Manhattan, KS use interactive online tool to "Check-Up" on comprehensive regional plan

The City of Manhattan, Kansas keeps an eye on the future. Local government, community organizations, and citizens have been working together for years to move the city forward and facilitate smart growth.

Old Document

Back in 2003, the city released a comprehensive plan for the area and invited citizens to look it over. The plan was thorough - it was published online in the form of 31 separate PDF files, some exceeding 1000KB, with pictures, maps, and sections to guide readers. It was an informative document, but it was lengthy, static, and unresponsive - even the most well-meaning citizen would probably not read the whole thing, and feedback would need to happen separately.

In 2003, publishing a PDF was an acceptable way for communities to share their plans and invite citizen participation. But it’s been more than 10 years, and the City of Manhattan has changed with the times. To help develop the area’s comprehensive plan for the upcoming years, the city has invited the public to perform a “Plan Check-Up” on the old 2003 document, to see what elements are working, what needs tweaking, and what needs a major overhaul. So citizens will be reading the 2003 plan over again - but this time around, it looks very different.

New Solution

Using BrightPages from UIS, the old document has been brought to life, making it easy for people to read, understand, and respond to. The plan now looks less like a “typical” agency document and more like the eye-catching, easy-reading information that people see online every day. Citizens that review Manhattan’s Plan Checkup will find:

Digestible content

Information is presented through bright infographics, small summaries, and relevant charts, so it’s easy to comprehend at a glance.

Responsive maps

Far from the static maps on the original PDF, the Plan Checkup maps are zoomable and high-definition, allowing users to effectively explore transportation and land use issues.

Easy exploration

Citizens can easily jump from one section to another - projected growth, economic development, transportation, and other issues - according to their interests rather than being forced to go through each chapter one after the next.

One-click response

Each section of the Plan Checkup has an easy rating system (“Spot On”, “Needs Tweaking”, “Outdated”) so people can give instant feedback right inside the plan website.

In-depth feedback

Citizens are not limited to one-click answers - there are comment boxes for more lengthy responses and idea submissions.

Improved Results

The new, interactive version of Manhattan’s 2003 plan is in stark contrast to the old static PDF. The Plan CheckUp, powered by BrightPages, is responsive and interesting, even including feedback options right alongside the information. The project leaders responsible for crafting the new comprehensive plan can reply to comments and download the feedback for later use - resulting in a project that is influenced by the suggestions of an informed public.

With BrightPages, even old plans can come to life in a whole new way.