A partnership between two startup tech companies is helping local governments provide new digital options for public engagement in what are often opaque processes for community planning.
The two companies, CitizenLab and Konveio, were introduced to one another through the CivStart tech startup accelerator program last year. Now hundreds of local governments use their software to reach more residents — CitizenLab claims more than 500 local governments across 18 countries use its software for community planning, such as transportation projects and how to use federal funding.
CitizenLab helps governments reach their communities to involve them in decision-making processes through surveys, forums and direct feedback. For example, residents in communities that use CitizenLab can directly share their ideas for community planning, the multi-phased local development process that results in a comprehensive document planning out the following 5-15 years of community growth.
Konveio’s interactive document reader software, the company’s primary product, can be embedded into CitizenLab. Together they enable residents to find information in the sometimes-lengthy community planning PDFs and leave comments, which are shared with local officials. Company leaders told StateScoop this makes it easier to for officials to take public comments into account and makes their long planning processes more accessible to residents.
“We find often that a big use of our platform for local governments is distilling large amounts of local information about projects, such as very complicated planning documents and finding a way to distill information in a way that’s very digestible,” Natalie Ricklefs, a growth marketing manager at CitizenLab, told StateScoop of her company’s partnership with Konveio.
While CitizenLab provides a way for the public to leave comments, the information-dense documents that are central to planning a community’s future are sometimes difficult to access, because they’re hard to find on city websites are they’re too long. Some documents used in local planning efforts, such as municipal budgets or transportation proposals, approach 1,000 pages.
“If you update a new tool, you’ll get these little pop ups that will tell you what’s new. Imagine that basically, but on the document itself,” Nina Singh Carlsen, government success manager at CitizenLab, said of Konveio.
The CitizenLab and Konveio partnership allows local governments recreate digitally some elements of their in-person planning processes. Local government meetings often include a high-level overviews of the documents on poster boards, PowerPoint presentations and Q&A sessions. Busy people who can’t attend in-person meetings can access presentations and other documents on CitizenLab. Uploads can include margin notes, highlighting key points and insights and public comments can be left directly on the documents as annotations. Residents can also respond to polls about the materials.
Singh Carlsen said it’s a central mission of her company to help small governments involve more residents in long-term plans plans for their communities.
“I think when I step back a little bit, I have a greater appreciation for what we’re able to to do by partnering with Konvenio, because with a lot of these really intense technical documents, there’s there is an in-person engagement that occurs,” she said. “For us to be able to mirror some of that engagement online makes the process so much more accessible.”