Online Forums and Tools for Citizen Participation: Some Examples

On LinkedIn, I’m part of the Urban Planning Group.  Recently, I took note of a conversation happening within the group.  One of the members had asked others how local governments were using online forums and tools to engage citizens in the planning process.  On this blog, we’ve noted services like YouChooseBayArea in San Francisco and Hub2 in Boston, Betaville, and SeeClickFix, so I was interested to see more examples of tools in practice. A couple of major points I took away from the discussion: these tools should not be the public participation process – they only can enhance a public engagement process by incorporating the views of a more varied population or about a more varied set of topics.  Planners are curious about how best to synthesize and use all the web-generated content once it is collected – this is a classic problem in planning that the traditional Rational Planning model somewhat obscures.  The use of Facebook and Twitter by government planning agencies is increasing, but many warned of the need to establish a social media policy and distinct goals to be achieved through these channels before launching.

Below, I list many examples cited in the group discussion for easy reference.  Some of them are currently being used or have been used in the past in actual public participation processes; others have been released recently

  • SeeClickFix – used by the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition to help them track issues and work with the city to get them soved
  • CityPlanner by Agency9 – used by European cities Gothenburg and Norrkoping (my note: while these sites look incredibly advanced and visually appealing, they run very slowly on my computer, which may hinder their use)
  • EngagingPlans by the Urban Interactive Studio --  used by Galveston, Texas
  • OptIn – a tool of METRO, Portland, Oregon’s metropolitan planning organization
  • GreenCityStreets – this is a new web application designed to engage citizens in thinking about public transportation, walking, biking, and general transportation management through an online game
  • WikiPlanning – used by San Jose, Charlotte, Owasso, and Bessemer City
  • City Commons Club – an online forum for concerned citizens of Berkeley, California (a city well-known for its citizen organization)
  • WebPolis – a project of Eastern Michigan University’s Urban and Regional Planning Program, providing tools for online discussion, surveys, grant/loan searches, and real estate financial analysis
  • Limehouse Software – used by Chester County, Pennsylvania to establish a portal for public comment on text and mapping
  • RateMyStreet – a UK-based site that collects user ratings of the pedestrian experience on specific streets

These are general resources for discovering more tools.

- Terra Curtis