Wondering what tool to use for a public engagement project? Here’s a list.

Back in September, Community Matters featured a blog post listing 50 tools for Online Public Engagement. They gathered tools for digital outreach, ‘in no particular order (and with no implied endorsement)’.

I figured the list could be even more helpful if the tools were grouped by purpose and who uses them. Basically, what can the public do with the tool to engage in a project? And why might planners use it? Here are the groups:

    • Giving input about places via a map
    • Responding to surveys and giving input in other ways
    • Choosing priorities and setting budgets
    • Navigating the planning process together
    • Brainstorming ideas and reach decisions
    • Chatting on neighborhood social media
    • Sharing neighborhood knowledge
    • Reporting potholes and other municipal problems
    • Funding projects directly

Digital engagement is more than just any one (or 50+) tools on the list, it’s a mindset. Approaching the planning problem in front of you with the intent to find a balance between in-person and digital engagement is more effective than using either approach alone. I’ll explore these ideas further in a later blog post.

Knowing the right tools to use is a good place to start, so without further ado here’s my remix of the list (plus a few more tools mentioned in the comments on the original blog post). These boundaries are not totally rigid, and there might be tools that belong in several categories.

Giving input about places via a map

These mapping tools enable participants to leave comments on maps, for example suggesting bike share locations or identifying community assets. Typically set up by planners for use by community members.

  • Community Remarks – map based civic engagement tool for collaborative problem solving.
  • Crowdmap – if you want to make a web map to tell a story, this is a tool for that.
  • Shareabouts – choose a template (e.g. street safety, participatory budgeting) and have your map up and running, ready to collect public input, in minutes.
  • TellUs Toolkit – a cloud-based decision support system to help you engage stakeholders in a range of location based problems.
  • Tidepools – re-skinnable custom apps, time-based maps, and data feeds. A collaborative, mobile mapping, and social hub.
  • Vivid Maps – engage your community by providing a platform to map local assets, special places, or respond to place based surveys.

Responding to surveys and giving input in other ways

These tools provide a means for asking questions and receiving answers, and aim to reduce accessibility barriers which sometimes exist between planners/elected officials and residents.

  • All Our Ideas – Wiki surveys + crowd-sourced data, backed by social data collection research.
  • Ask Them PPF – a free & open-source website for questions and answers with public figures.
  • Cityzen – facilitates social media and polling integration for your project.
  • Crowd Hall- easily host interactive town halls with your audience.
  • Open Town Hall – an online public comment platform for government.
  • Poll Everywhere – ask your audiences questions and view the responses in real time.
  • Textizen – send, receive, and analyze questions via text messages so you reach the people you serve, with the technology already in their pocket.

Choosing priorities and setting budgets

These tools let participants identify their priorities in a planning process, and explore the implications for budgets. Typically set up by planners for use by community members.

  • Budget Simulator – public consultation tool specifically focused on gathering insight about budgets.
  • CrowdGauge – a framework to gauge the values, priorities, and preferences of the crowd with a game.
  • Citizen Budget – online tool to involve residents in decision-making processes.
  • Wejit – creates a page for collaboration and community building for any topic.

Navigating the planning process together

These tools create a space for idea generation and meaningful discussion with community stakeholders. Use the feedback you collect to create recommendations which align with what the community wants.

  • Citizen Space – organize and publish all your consultations easily.
  • Collabco – collaborative wikis, open discussions, digital focus groups and more tools facilitate collaboration and communication with members of you community.
  • Community PlanIt – play a game and simultaneously plan for your community in the process.
  • CoUrbanize – a tool for developers to list projects and for  residents to comment/leave feedback for said projects.
  • Crowdbrite – a suite of tools for collaboration (e.g. online meetings), engagement (e.g. charrettes), and creation.
  • DialogueApp – solve policy challenges with input from citizens.
  • EngagementHQ – the complete community engagement toolkit.
  • EngagingPlans – create websites for your planning projects, including a tool for discussions.
  • Granicus SpeakUp – easy to use tools for citizen ideas and feedback.
  • MetroQuest – educate the public about your project through a series of fun and visual screens (e.g identifying and ranking priorities, rating scenarios/strategies, public comment).
  • MindMixer – build better communities by involving people in the things they care about.
  • PlaceSpeak – using geography, participants can find out about community consultations nearby and proponents can digitally connect and engage with people within specific boundaries.
  • Recovers – Facilitates strategic, effective responses following local natural disasters.
  • Zilino – host deliberative online forums and other types of well-designed, facilitated participatory processes.

Brainstorming ideas to reach decisions

These tools help groups identify and develop ideas, and move them towards decisions.

  • Codigital – a scaleable, engaging way for large groups to generate and refine ideas.
  • e-deliberation – convene multiple stakeholders to decide together on a common agenda for change.
  • Ethelo –  a dynamic, holistic framework for stakeholder engagement, conflict resolution, and collective determination.
  • Loomio – free, open-source software for anyone, anywhere to participate in decisions that affect them.
  • Neighborland – a project ideation platform utilizing open ended questions to catalyze public brainstorms.
  • Stickyworld – a visual based forum platform.

Chatting on neighborhood social media

A Facebook-like discussion and updates tool, oftentimes private for neighbors to engage each other. Typically not specific to a planning project.

  • Civic Commons – social media for stuff that matters. A place where people are sharing perspectives and working toward common solutions.
  • Front Porch Forum – a private social forum for neighbors to connect.
  • i-Neighbors – free community websites, email lists, and more.
  • NextDoor – a private social network for your neighborhood.
  • Our Common Place – use this platform to share and connect with others in your community.

Sharing neighborhood knowledge

Who knows a neighborhood better than the people living there? These engagement tools help people to share their what they know about the places they call home via idea generation, wikis, how-to guides, etc. Typically not set up by planners.

  • Community Almanac – a crowd-source wiki for people to share stories, local knowledge.
  • Neighborhow – create how-to guides related to your community.

Report potholes and other municipal problems

Not a tool for direct input into a planning process, these tools help residents notify government about problems, or see the status of previously-reported issues. Easier than calling 311 or visiting City Hall. Typically, these tools are set up by a city government for use by residents. Planners can use the data from these tools to understand longstanding neighborhood issues, but the primary purpose of the tool is identifying issues for the city to fix.

  • Adopt a Hydrant – an app for citizens to claim responsibility for shoveling out nearby hydrants after a snowstorm.
  • CivicInsight - simple, clear language and visualizations help residents make sense of complicated processes like code enforcement and building permits.
  • Public Stuff – notify local government about problems which exist where you live.
  • SeeClickFix – report neighborhood issues and see them get fixed.
  • StreetBump – an app which collects road condition data while users drive, and uses the collected data to improve neighborhood streets.

 Funding projects directly

Like Kickstarter for urban planning, anyone can add a proposed neighborhood project, and solicit capital to implement by appealing to the generosity of the general public.

  • CitizInvestor – invest in the public projects you care about most.
  • neighbor.ly – invest in communities by purchasing bonds.

… and finally

These tools were in the list of 50, but I don’t see them as directly contributing to citizen engagement. These aren’t tools that planners can use to increase participation in a project tomorrow. They may be important in the civic tech world, but don’t actively contribute to citizen engagement.

  • GitHub – simplified version control for software development. easily collaborate with others, and share your projects with the world.
  • Open311- a collaborative model and open standard for civic issue tracking.
  • OSCity (EU only) – interactive web maps which offer options for spatial search and analysis.