Okay folks, remember when I told you I’ve been busy working on a project for a future post? Here is what I’ve put together for all of you urbanists out there concerned with the many new and ever-increasing amounts of public engagement platforms/websites available. They just keep multiplying… With help from the American Planning Association and Google, I was able to find some businesses that advertise designing engagement platforms for community projects or city officials, whose aims are to increase opinion and idea flow from the citizens of communities, usually related to proposed or existing projects. I reached out to some of these organizations, asking a series of questions and hoped for honest answers. I’m very pleased with the information and free consultation and though I haven’t heard back from all of the contacts, I will update as this progresses. A big “thank you” to the helpful employees who responded to my questions- both were very friendly and just displayed excellent customer care (which reflects on the larger organization)! This post will be a bit lengthy, but my hope is to give a brief summary of the few who responded so far:
- Engagment HQ by Bang the Table (A really awesome site where their mission is “To improve the quality of public debate and level of community involvement in public life.”
Still waiting to hear back from:
- connectedbits‘ Spot Reporters
- When I wrote to them, my questions were directed from a non-planning organization. I was asking on behalf of a University student group looking for a way to engage with the broader student community. They responded with: “coUrbanize only provides sites for real estate and planning projects to share information and engage with community members.” I followed up with my questions then from a planning agency’s perspective, and so let’s see what I hear back.
MindMixer (based out of Kansas City, Missouri)
About, taken directly from their site:
Our mission is to build better communities by involving people in the things they care about.
In 2010, after one too many sparsely attended public meetings, urban planners Nick Bowden and Nathan Preheim had a novel idea: What if people could attend public meetings anytime, anywhere? What if they could provide their input and make their communities better online?
The idea took off and evolved. Since then, MindMixer has worked with hundreds of organizations to build stronger relationships between civic places and the people who love them through transparent, meaningful and productive interactions.
On their site, they have a page devoted to the communities they have worked with according to the kinds of projects: Civic, K-12 Education, Design Professionals, Higher Education, and State & Fed. Here, you can see what and where they’re working on and even view sites they’ve designed for communities. Their site is not too specific on what can be inputted onto a page or site, but looking at some of the community sites they display, they seem to be on the simpler side of the engagement process. What I mean is, they’re mostly concerned about having topics out there for people to respond to, and overall just getting input.
“We have more than 500 active sites today and have worked with nearly 1,000 government agencies historically.”
Can users post anonymously? No, every user does need to create an account using either their social media account or email. While their full name is not used their first and last initial is. Polls are answered anonymously.
Do users need an email address to post? Yes, because they need to create an account to post on the site, so either they use Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail or another email address to sign up.
Do users need to be affiliated or invited to post on the site, or is it just open to the public and anyone who finds it? Can we adjust this if need be? It is open to the public, but you will be able to see who responds. Both are actually provided through the platform. Administrators on the site can invite specific users as well as the general public can share via social or via email.
Will users have the ability to customize it if so fitting? We are thinking of having different topics, under each topic having a few questions. We are also wondering if adding photos or videos would be an option for allowing people to write about/respond to, and not just relying on text. Is this doable? We don’t support folder structure topics as I think you have defined them, but we do have predetermined categories that can be utilized. Our platform is more configurable than customizable. For example, you can change color schemes, images, create your own topics however you cannot change navigation, fonts, etc. As an administrator you can create questions (we call them topics). Users can post ideas and those ideas can include images, hyperlinks, long form text. They cannot upload PDFs or video files.
What are the volume/capacity limits of these sites (we hope to get between 300-500 graduate students to respond and want to make sure the site can handle this much traffic)? This is no problem at all.
EngagementHQ (based out of Australia and has representatives in the U.S.)
About, taken directly from their site:
Bang the Table’s mission is to improve the quality of public debate and level of community involvement in public life.
EngagementHQ is built and supported by the team at Bang the Table Pty Ltd.
Originally based in Australia, we’ve been around since 1998. Before that the founders worked in, with and around government and community either leading or providing advice about community engagement, government relations, communications and strategic planning.
Collectively the Bang the Table team has well over 100 years of experience working with government and the private sector on tricky community engagement issues.
There Features page is extremely detailed and provides a wealth of knowledge on the organization and what it offers. It definitely has more capacity to enrich the conversations that may want to occur between civic leaders and citizens, or even just citizen to citizen interactions. With an updating newsfeed blog, document libraries, and project widgets, I feel it has more to offer for educating citizens about community engagement opportunities and projects, as well as providing many means to promote further activity and meaningful conversation.
“More than 3,000 stories of successfully engaged communities in five countries.”
Can users post anonymously? Users can post anonymously, however, even if you require people to register first, all comment will ALWAYS have a screen name attached. Hence comments never appear under real names, unless the visitor chooses to use his/her real name as a screen name.
Do users need to be affiliated or invited to post on the site, or is it just open to the public and anyone who finds it? Can we adjust this if need be? You can choose who can post or not. That means you can have projects within your site that are open to the public and other projects that require invitation and will be filtered by email addresses.
Will users have the ability to customize it if so fitting? We are thinking of having different topics, under each topic having a few questions. We are also wondering if adding photos or videos would be an option for allowing people to write about/respond to, and not just relying on text. Is this doable? Absolutely, you can post videos and photos and all kinds of other documents. You can post these in discussion topics and then have people discuss the photo or video you posted. You can have as many or little topics as you like too.
What are the volume/capacity limits of these sites (we hope to get between 300-500 graduate students to respond and want to make sure the site can handle this much traffic)? The is no capacity limit. Some of our sites have over 3000 registered participants.
In short: If you’re looking for a site that can provide a way for citizens to engage with each other on a basic level, where administrators provide the topics, MindMixer is a good, free option. This is good for the planner who is just beginning, as well as for general citizens to get involved with or even bring to their city officials. If however, you’re looking for a way to reach a broader mass of people through different media (videos, surveys, documents) and have more services to provide customizing and even data reports, Engagement HQ is an option at a fairly marketable price.
I hope this has been helpful and I’m looking forward to the future updates from other companies!