What makes a good community engagement tool? How do we prioritize new features? And what are the next big things on the horizon for community engagement? Digital tools are evolving so quickly that it’s often difficult to keep up. At CitizenLab, we’re constantly working to better understand which features will truly make a difference for local governments, and we work very closely with our network of 200+ clients to ensure our tool stays tailored to their needs.
Over the last few months, we launched several exciting features to meet the demands of the time. 5 of our newest features include:
Getting community members to meetings has always been a challenge; in-person meetings were costly, hard to organize, and not the most inclusive way to reach diverse populations. Even so, there was a lot of value to the in-depth, real-time conversation that could take place in those settings, and since the pandemic forced meetings and services online people found themselves missing a sense of community. We know the importance of blending engagement methods, so we created online features to help communities stay connected in new ways.
We built a workshop feature right into our platform to maintain the personal elements of face-to-face meetings. With the workshops feature, you can see participants on the left side of your screen while keeping the right side for information sharing and written input collection. Imagine seeing live community input during a deliberation process, being able to poll participants, and easily capturing all those ideas in one place – now you can do all of that with just one, streamlined tool!
Whether you use workshops to host a large plenary or to create small break-out room discussions, this is where you can build community and consensus online. So far, our clients have used this feature for public engagement sessions, town halls, focus groups, team meetings, and even a retirement good-bye event. We’re excited to see how this feature grows – how will you use it?
As the use of online engagement platforms grows, so does the complexity of the projects we see on our platform. Cities sometimes need to create multiple engagement opportunities around one common goal or want to structure projects by neighborhood and other sub-sections of a community. Our project folders were created to help you do exactly that!
With this feature, you can tailor both the public-facing and administrator sides of your platform, grouping projects to meet your specific needs. Each folder has a dedicated URL for simple, user-friendly sharing with your community members.
Want to see this feature in action?
- This is how Ghent (BE) organizes its participatory budgeting by neighborhood.
- And this is how Leiden (NL) brought together all of the engagement opportunities linked to a new mobility plan.
- Design updates
We did a complete overhaul of the design of our folders, projects, and ideas pages to put engagement opportunities front-and-center so they’re easier for residents to find and navigate. We’ve also made our input cards more compact and engaging to encourage more participants to interact with their community members’ ideas and proposals.
We’ll continue making usability improvements and are always recruiting for our user testing panel to help inform how we optimize our platform for participant engagement.
- Feature customization
The many use cases that have come to life through CitizenLab platforms inspired us to create new ways for you to customize projects to meet different needs. From tailored project URLs to creating search & filter tags, the possibilities are (almost) endless. Two recent customizations include:
- The ability to choose what type of input you want to collect; for example, you can crowdsource ideas for a participatory budget, collect comments and votes on ideas for your city’s public transportation project, invite residents to collaborate on concrete projects, or generate discussion on community issues such as policing.
- Customizing statuses for user-generated input, such as an idea that was posted by a local resident. One of the biggest challenges with public participation is how to close the feedback loop – to let residents know that their city administration is listening and incorporating the input that they’ve invited people to contribute. Now your team can update residents when their ideas are under consideration, accepted, implemented (or another status!) and everyone can see what’s happening with the feedback given on the platform.
We also introduced the first version of our mapping feature to support more place-based projects. Whether you’re sourcing ideas for participatory budgeting in a specific neighborhood or asking for opinions about different locations for a new project, now you can add map layers (such as neighborhood boundaries, schools, local businesses) to your platform. This provides more context for people to provide input or can enable you to ask for input on projects in a specific location. For instance, you could show three potential locations for a new project and ask people to comment on which of those locations they think is the most suitable; similarly, you can ask people to focus their ideas in certain geographic regions, such as within one mile of a school. We’re working to improve the overall user interface for map-based projects, making it easier for people to add, browse, and comment on others’ inputs.
Ready to find out how our platform can help you advance community engagement? Schedule a demo with one of our participation experts.