Improve citizen engagement to improve place-based outcomes

People and places - improving outcomes

  • What benefits does a place based approach bring to the citizen?
  • How will it transform public health and safety demand and service provision?

Improve citizen engagement to improve place-based outcomes

Most, if not all of us, would agree, that a place based approach must have a people based approach to achieve beneficial outcomes. That perhaps sounds obvious, but is often hard to achieve in practice as local authorities seek to gain community-wide approval for new policies and place-based initiatives. Councils do recognise that the most important success criteria is delivering great local services and the public rely on the quality of these services for a better quality of life. Traditionally, councils have taken a top-down approach for developing new policies, seeking feedback and consensus from (again) traditional methods such as town hall meetings, surveys, or pushing out updates and requests for feedback via email and through their Web site.

As Gartner recommends for smart city initiatives, which equally applies for a place based approach - "The way forward today is a community-driven, bottom-up approach where citizens are an integral part of designing and developing and not a top-down policy, driven by city leaders”. But these traditional tools of engagement are inadequate, limited in scope and lack representation of the whole community.

Citizens often get passionate about issues that directly impact them. We are concerned about where we live (our place) and the big topics affecting the quality of our lives within the community – from public safety, to the prosperity of the local economy, to care of the vulnerable and elderly, to the quality of local transportation and communication links. So how do you engage citizens and capture the sentiment of the people in your place for a more inclusive place based agenda?

Place providers need to transform citizen relationships and embrace digital and social media as the channels for true inclusive representation and the insight into citizen concerns and needs. They need to think beyond their role as the main initiator with a push and seek response approach if they want to operationalise long term goals successfully. After all, citizen participation is a necessary cornerstone of democracy and of government’s true purpose for engagement with society. A more influential and collaborative approach to participation would maximise people’s willingness and opportunities to use and develop their capacities for their community and also potentially lead to sustained voluntary direct action.

Too often it is the same ten people that tend to provide opinions in response to consultations and requests for feedback or the 1% activists who make the most noise. But such voices of course are not representative of the general consensus. This issue is also exasperated in the virtual world (social media) as well as the physical world (town hall meetings). Just because there are repeated posts with the same repeated comments about a particular point doesn’t mean there’s concern for a common issue. It is about the level of engagement around an issue more so than the particular comment.

The ZenCity platform from Israeli-based start-up ZenCity looks to address these challenges. Launched in 2015 with the platform first released in 2017, it is now deployed across over 50 local authorities, across 4 countries benefitting over 12 million people daily. The platform measures levels of engagement and sentiment across many different data sources that can be aligned to different themes (or functional services) and projects (policies, initiatives) to empower leaders with actionable insights for existing or future policies or any aspect of how effectively they are delivering service.

Artificial Intelligence is a central component of how the platform works. It pulls together multiple data streams containing clues about what problems citizens may have, what they care about and how they feel about things the council can control. This covers social media platforms, contact centre communication channels, CRM applications and any other relevant data sources. It runs the collated data through four algorithms to help the authority understand what people are saying and what that means in terms of action or changes in decision making policies:

  • Classification - Determining what the feedback is about and which area the feedback is relevant to.
  • Sentiment - Whether the feedback is positive or negative.
  • Anomalies - Identifying trends, such as when people are suddenly talking more about a certain subject or if sentiment has rapidly shifted.
  • Geolocation – Mapping feedback to a location so that the council can see different neighbourhood issues or community discussions that are most relevant.

For local authorities to really drive successful outcomes for their place based agenda, this bottom-up inclusive citizen engagement approach will be critical. It will enable councils to really drive stronger community collaboration, cooperation and cohesion and potentially make for stronger connected communities as well as underpin joined up transformation of integrated local services.

Join the discussion on #PlaceBasedInnovation To see more blogs like this, please visit the website here.

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