The public engagement process is deeply flawed. Citizens do not feel empowered to make a meaningful impact on the decisions that affect themselves and their communities. Traditional methods such as town hall meetings and public hearings tend to attract the “usual suspects” and are inaccessible to many, including youth, families with children, people with mobility challenges, and more. Incorporating online methods as part of any citizen engagement process is essential to ensuring that a diversity of voices are represented and heard.
Unfortunately, online techniques come with new challenges. Anonymity has facilitated the rise of ballot-stuffing, astroturfing and other means of undermining digital democratic participation, making it difficult to collect defensible data which can be confidently used for decision-making. In addition, negative online behaviour such as trolling and cyberbullying deters people from participating. All of this has contributed to a deep cynicism and decline in public trust.
The PlaceSpeak Difference
PlaceSpeak’s citizen-centric model puts the citizen at the heart of the engagement process. Once users have signed up, they can choose to be notified of new consultations by frequency, distance or subject matter (keyword). PlaceSpeak’s unique geo-verification technology verifies the address of potential respondents before they participate in a consultation, ensuring that feedback data collected is coming from real, relevant people. This gives decision-makers confidence in the data collected and empowers people to have a genuine impact in the communities where they live, work, and play.
Since its inception in 2011, PlaceSpeak has been developed with the support of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC-IRAP). Its features have been designed to align with the IAP2’s Spectrum of Public Participation: Inform, Consult, Involve, Collaborate, and Empower. PlaceSpeak has been utilized in a wide range of consultations, including local government, school districts, parks & recreation, property development, and transportation planning. Today, PlaceSpeak has over 20,000 civically engaged users worldwide contributing to conversations and decisions in their communities.
SentiMap: Spatial Visualization of Public Opinion
Most recently, PlaceSpeak has developed a new feature, SentiMap, using the SAP HANA Platform and SAP HANA Text Analysis to analyze and spatially visualize large amounts of online civic engagement text data (e.g. discussion forum comments). This represents a significant improvement over traditional methods of analyzing qualitative data, which can be challenging and time-consuming.
SentiMap helps simplify the big text data collected by government and other public sector organizations and make it visually understandable. Real-time map visualizations make it easy to grasp and analyze large amounts of qualitative data. A spatial view of the trends and differences in public opinion across regions and areas (e.g. neighbourhoods, districts) allows for more nuanced analysis and policy-making. The map view also makes data more easily accessible and understood by non-technical users and citizen participants, increasing transparency and providing opportunities for accountability.
Example: In 2015, residents of Metro Vancouver were asked to vote on a new tax to fund public transportation initiatives. In collaboration with NEWS1130 radio, PlaceSpeak launched a consultation topic to determine voter sentiment across the 22 municipalities within the region. Drawing from discussion forum comments, we used SentiMap to visualize how participants in each municipality felt about the vote. Explore Transportation Vote data visualizations.