Digitally Enhanced | Community Outreach

It would seem obvious, even self-evident. If local officials want “buy-in” from their community about a proposed initiative, they had best talk to the community first. But how? PlaceMatters—a Denver-based nonprofit founded in 2002—is using technology to help towns and cities create a more inclusive planning process. “The areas where we do the most work are public-participation outreach and designing the process so that stakeholders are involved early on,” says Ken Snyder, the president and CEO. “The tools and techniques we use are centered around improving the level of feedback.”

Last year, PlaceMatters started a research and development group called the Decision Lab to create new digital planning tools. “We were doing a lot of fee-for-service work and seeing gaps in the tools that were available,” Snyder says. The Decision Lab has already created two applications: Anywhere Keypad Polling, which allows live and television audiences to provide simultaneous feedback; and the Brainstorm Anywhere app, a Web-based program that gives large groups of people in different locations an opportunity to trade, evaluate, and stockpile ideas.

Like design firms that customize software for their own needs, the Decision Lab is flexible in its approach. “Often, we take technologies from other fields—marketing, business, advertising—and see what use they could be in planning,” says Jason Lally, the lab’s director. But Snyder cautions that all of this technology is merely a tool, a means to an end that must be intuitive and accessible. It can’t be the exclusive domain of the tech-savvy. “You want to use it as a bridge,” he says, “not as a substitute for the traditional planning methods, like face-to-face meetings and getting the local people involved.”

URBANISM: http://www.metropolismag.com/oct11/urbanism

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