Online tools to achieve community engagement – Part 2/2

Regarding cities desire to engage the public in more meaningful ways, I had the pleasure to speak with Eric Gordon, associate professor in the department of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College where he is the founding director of the Engagement Lab.

Among other civic engagement tools, the Lab developed Community PlanIt, an online game platform designed to make engaging the public (youth and adults) in civic planning processes more fun and rewarding.

« Within a series of time-limited missions, players compete with each other to earn influence in their community to fund local projects. » explains Eric.

Contrary to coUrbanize, which gathers opinions during a long term process, Community PanIt is a 3 weeks process highly story enriched where players learn about key issues related to the topic of the engagement process, connect with each other and contribute meaningfully by suggesting solutions to problems.

Both coUrbanize and Community PanIt are powerful data collection tools that allow decision makers to analyze community input and can have a better knowledge of who is getting involved. In fact, while data from in-person meetings are often judgement-based assumptions, online platforms enable users to provide precise demographic information.

Capture d’écran 2016-05-19 à 12.20.07

Philadephia2035 Recap Visualization

Data collected through Detroit’s game of Community PlanIt – Detroit 24/7 – and Philadelphia’s – Philadephia2035 – showed that the majority of users is part of the generation Y and that half of them had no prior participation planning.

But data also point out that users of Philadephia2035 are mostly white and educated. And even though Detroit 24/7 attracted over 50% African American players, it didn’t quite match to demographic, as the city is about 80% African American.

If online civic tools facilitate trust-building between citizens and governments, engaging marginalized communities in planning processes continues to be a challenge for municipalities.

Eric outlined that governments often don’t have appropriate capacity to bring people from diverse backgrounds into the system, which fundamentally corresponds to community organizers’ work.

“More generally, cities are spending millions of dollars in public engagement consultancy on a regular basis while they should be building their internal capacity. But they are not given the resources required to make that happen.”

Drawing on this, Eric Gordon is currently leading the City Accelerator‘s cohort on Local Government Engagement in order to generate best practices around community engagement among participating cities and to produce resources valuable to all municipal governments in the country.

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