When I visited my first ever residents’ association meeting in 2000, I was shocked. I had just bought my first apartment and wanted to be active in the development of the new housing area. I was shocked for two reasons:
- The discussion revolved around a topic of how to get people to clean dog poop in the neighborhood.
- I realized this was not the way to reach the experts who were responsible for planning the area.
It was obvious to me that the tools and the channels were wrong, and so was the content.
Closing the Gap Between Experts and ‘Experience-based Experts’
The way we think about how participation and community engagement should be organized has always bothered me. There has been a gap between who is allowed to be part of creating places and who is actually making the decisions. This gap has been formed because experts, decision makers, and practitioners have not been able to understand the real value of “normal people” living in the area. We have labeled them as ‘participants’ instead of calling them as ‘experience-based experts of places’.
Architecture and urban planning equals to designing places for people. During Covid-19, we have observed how places literally die without people: places become meaningless and useless without people no matter how beautiful the architecture is. After living and using places and spaces, people shape them through their everyday routines. So in the end, it’s the ‘experience-based experts’ and not planners and decision makers who form, shape, and make places.
Goal: Learning More About the Participation Process
Nowadays, digital tools have opened new ways and channels for people to be part of making their living environment. On their journey of learning how to make better functioning cities together with the residents, many cities have done an excellent job in testing and piloting new tools and platforms. We’re entering into a new era as many cities already know which tools, methods, and channels work and which don’t.
Still, I dare to ask: do we know enough? Have we given too much emphasis on testing the tools instead of aiming to learn about how the entire process of participation works? How often have we actually followed-up systemically to learn more about what was successful and where we failed?
I dare to say we still have a lot of work ahead of us. After all, our mutual goal is making cities together with residents through a process that’s meaningful, transparent, and systematic.
Introducing the New and Improved Maptionnaire
The way we have designed the new Maptionnaire Citizen Engagement Platform is based on our notions and learnings throughout the years. We prioritize residents as informants: they have the knowledge of what works in their living environment, they know which places are attractive and what makes them feel safe, what routes they use, where are the places to relax and the places to meet people. This information is within our reach if we have the right tools for people to share it. But keep in mind that we also need to be able to analyze and visualize that information to make it understandable and transparent to others. We favor (and believe in) people’s willingness to share their thoughts and opinions so for this reason our technology relies on an ‘ask and get results’ type of logic.
The new Maptionnaire service takes things to the next level. The service has developed from a survey tool into a modular platform. The new Maptionnaire is a complete, digital tool set for community engagement. It can be used to design and create polls and surveys - including map-based surveys - for arranging participatory budgeting, and for analyzing and visualizing results. With the new Maptionnaire, it is possible to reach out to large crowds for feedback, receiving readily structured and precise data, and being able to visualize stakeholder input in an effective manner all the while communicating about the project to relevant target groups e.g. via a dedicated website.
Experts using the service get an easy-to-use editor and well-functioning in-built analysis tool to filter and visualize the engagement data. But – more importantly – they get a possibility to learn how they have performed in their journey of making cities together with people. This can be monitored through a dashboard that compiles all the data from different engagement activities into one place. Furthermore, we’ve thought of cities as complex organisations and added ways of managing the work and engagement activities in groups, allowing for better collaboration within the city.
… And The Journey Continues
I know the question on top of your mind probably is: Does this new Maptionnaire platform solve all our problems? Does it really remove all the communication errors that still exist?
My answer is: for sure it does not. But it’s a much more comprehensive tool designed for those forward-looking, goal-oriented organizations who want to be in the forefront of making cities better places to live in.
Our aim was to understand where cities want to take their public participation and community engagement efforts in 2020 and beyond and what we know is that at least our platform will make their road a bit less bumpy.
PS. In case you missed our launch webinar where we gave an overview of the new Maptionnaire, you can watch the recording on demand.