Technology provides platform for innovative engagement

By Brooke Stobbe

We’ve been keeping an eye on an interesting trend of community engagement through technology. Specifically with interactions between city government or educational institutions and their audiences, we’re seeing new apps and websites seem to be making appearances on the engagement stage.

The most basic apps are for residents to report graffiti, roadkill, construction, fallen trees and other city-maintenance issues. The engagement builds from here, to include submitting concerns, needs and ideas, and finally creating a forum to engage in conversation.

The idea is for members in the community to have a voice outside city council meetings. Since many people are online and on smartphones, officials are trying to meet them there.

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A simulation of Go Bangor, the city of Bangor’s new app. (Photo courtesy of Meghan Collins)

Cities like Boston, Bangor, Maine, Haines City, Florida, and others are adopting and trying the mobile app concept.

Meghan Collins, government channel and website coordinator for the city of Bangor, helped build and launch Go Bangor, an app designed to enhance community-to-government engagement and conversation. The app provides a city council calendar, service-request form including photo submissions and an “around me” function that pulls up Yelp to easily find local businesses.

“Our primary focus was to better connect with residents, visitors and businesses in Bangor,” She said. “We want it to be more of a two-way communication between our residents and city so we can be more responsive… It builds community camaraderie.”

Some cities like Phoenix have even created websites to take the engagement one step further.

The website host, MindMixer, is a platform specifically for community engagement and provides a space for the community to facilitate conversation whenever there’s something to talk about, which is, in the words of CEO Nick Bowden, all the time.

“We think communities are fundamentally better when their citizens are involved,” Bowden said. “This isn’t a ‘tool’ problem. I don’t believe in creating more stuff to solve the problem, but context is the problem and a different side of the community.”

We all walk around with, what Bowden calls, computers in our pockets, and therefore are always reachable whether at home, the lunch room, the train or, yes, your newsroom’s event.

People are engaged on these platforms not because there’s an interesting headline that raises eyebrows on the phone’s notification screen, but because citizens are able to express their concerns, needs or interests.

What are new ways we can offer to listen? How can we use our existing online presence as a space for audience members to participate in an ongoing conversation, as opposed to what Collins calls an old-fashioned “notification system?”

If you have any ideas or new engagement projects, we would love to know about them. Share through our contact form or you can find us on Twitter or Facebook. Let’s have a conversation.

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