This Tool Will Shift Your Public Comment Paradigm

Like any grand ambition, public involvement can be inspiring to envision and a pain in the rear to execute. When you’re transcribing Post-Its at 10pm after a community meeting or receiving the 30th public comment email referencing a single sentence somewhere in a 200 page document, it can often require a couple of deep breaths to remember why we insist on openness, transparency, and discourse around our civic processes. Finding the right tool to simplify these efforts will keep you focused on their importance.

CiviComment is our awesome new solution to your public commenting woes. Simply upload a PDF and share the link with your community, inviting them to click anywhere within the document to leave a comment. As a manager, you have options related to comment visibility, notifications and moderation, and comment categorization. Participants can agree with or respond to existing comments, reducing duplication and streamlining management. At the end of a public comment period, you can easily export feedback in a spreadsheet or as an annotated PDF for further consideration or integration.

We’re so excited about CiviComment’s potential to streamline this typically cumbersome process that we’re offering a 30-day free trial subscription that allows you to post and receive comments on one document. To help us learn and improve CiviComment, we’ll be asking free trial users to provide input on their experience using the tool.

Join us in making public commenting easy - we look forward to hearing what you think!

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.