What is a Community Engagement Platform and How to Choose One

July 20, 2022
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The most recent World City Report: Envisaging the Future of Cities by UN-Habitat highlights that public participation should be a core element of any city’s development processes.

A community engagement platform brings residents and local governments all the benefits of online public participation together with transparency, data-driven insights, and opportunities for collaboration and co-creation. 

“Building urban resilience will not succeed without public participation.”    
— World City Report, UN-Habitat

As there are quite a few options on the software market, you’d spend some time choosing the best community engagement platform. The checklist below helps you discover what are the needs of your city and citizens and, eventually, find a suitable solution. 

But first of all, let’s figure out why you need (or not) a community engagement platform.

What Is a Community Engagement Platform? 

A community engagement platform is software that enables you to run public participation processes in your city with map-based surveys, interactive project pages, and data insights.

It’s a holistic solution for your local government across all the relevant departments that provides you with actionable data-driven insights for decision-making on a neighborhood, urban, or regional level.

* A community engagement platform can also be referred to as a citizen engagement platform. But essentially, it is the same type of software facilitating public participation. Here you can find out more about different types of community engagement.

Individual planning units might already have a certain toolset for online and offline community engagement in use. But with such a setup, engagement initiatives and data generated from citizens’ responses are not shared across the departments.

Vantaa's community engagement platform
The City of Vantaa uses Maptionnaire for its community engagement platform. Here you can read more about the City of Vantaa fully digitalizing its citizen engagement processes.

What Does a Community Engagement Platform Offer for Cities and Residents?

A community engagement platform offers to local governments:

  1. Resources for running online public participation, stakeholder consultation, and participatory budgeting processes
  2. Collective decision-making
  3. Residents-sourced feedback for creating and improving urban planning projects
  4. Increased transparency and citizen buy-in on development projects
  5. Streamlined internal communications 
  6. Project monitoring and analysis tools.

From the citizens’ perspective, a community engagement platform becomes a public face of the city. It’s the one webpage that they regularly check to give their opinion, engage in decision-making, and stay up-to-date with relevant development projects.

For diving deeper into community engagement and what it brings to your city, have a look at our e-book. It condenses decades of academic research and practice accumulated by Maptionnaire’s experts and helps you arrange citizen engagement processes effectively and transparently.

What to Consider When Choosing a Community Engagement Platform 

As no municipality or public organization has infinite resources at its disposal, informed decision-making is necessary. 

You’re facing three major options when looking for a citizen engagement solution: self-build civic tech platform, open source options, and software-as-a-service (SaaS). In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of these types of community engagement platforms.

There is no “one size fits all” solution, so compare each type against your requirements, capacities, and resources. For strategic decision-making, you need to understand what your local government needs from a citizen engagement platform.                    

an infographics defining what requirements local governments and cities should consider before choosing a citizen engagement platform

Define your local government needs 

Before even typing “best community engagement platforms overview” in your browser and asking around, make sure you know what you need and what are the resources at hand. In more detail, you need to find out: 

  • Strategy

What do you want to achieve with online participation and co-creation with citizens?

  • Current community engagement toolkit

What are the shortcomings of the current methods you are using for community engagement?
Are they dispersed across departments, are they compatible with each other, and are they used systematically? 

  • Talent

What kind of talent pool does your city have?
Do you have resources for a dedicated IT department to build the whole platform from ground zero? (Probably not, that’s why looking for an existing platform is a viable option.)
Do you have engagement specialists, and are the teams on board with increasing public participation processes?
Indeed, it's not worth buying a car that goes 320 km/h if you can't keep the wheel in your hands. 

  • IT resources, procurement process, and compliance 

What kind of IT infrastructure is there in the city? What’s the procurement process for new software?
What are the legal data protection principles that you have to adhere to when choosing software?

  • Budget

Finally, what is the budget that you can allocate for this software?
Here are some tips that can help you calculate the ROI for an online community engagement platform.

Evaluate the pros and cons of getting a platform for community engagement

Implementing new software does not end with just installing a new program. Software — especially in the field of govtech and community engagement — brings in new ways of working and demands new types of expertise. 

The societal and environmental benefits of a citizen engagement platform definitely overweight some of the cons. Nevertheless, be transparent with your organization about the shortcomings and resources required from your team. 

Pros of community engagement platforms:

  1. Increased citizen happiness
  2. More cost-effective initiatives in the fields of urban planning, transportation & mobility, energy transition, and health
  3. Increased transparency within the organization and in front of the public
  4. Encouraged cross-departmental cooperation 
  5. Valuable geolocated data sourced from the citizens
  6. Possibilities to reaching out and engage usually underrepresented and vulnerable groups. 

Cons of community engagement platforms:

  1. Require an investment in the right tools.
  2. Self-coded and open-source solutions require extensive technical knowledge and budget
  3. Require in-house participatory expertise (or you can turn to community engagement consulting services)
  4. For a stable ROI, local government needs to be consistent with community engagement (a single project won’t be enough).

If you’re interested in learning more about how municipalities and local governments use citizen engagement platforms, browse through community engagement examples.

By the end of the day, community engagement platforms help you achieve what any city strives to do — listen to its residents, develop in alignment with their needs, and make decisions together.

Our team will be happy to help you figure out the needs and wishes for a community engagement platform for your city or government.

Let’s have a chat!

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