In Conversation With: Micah Sifry

Each month, PlaceSpeak presents a Q&A with experts in public engagement and civic technology.

This month, we spoke with Micah Sifry, co-founder and executive director of Civic Hall, New York City’s community center for civic tech. Since 2004 he has been co-founder and editorial director of its parent company, Personal Democracy Media, curating its annual PDF conference and editing its news site techPresident, both focused on the ways technology is changing politics, government and civil society. He is also a senior adviser to the Sunlight Foundation, which he helped found in 2006, and serves on the boards of Consumer Reports and the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science. He is the author or editor of seven books, most recently The Big Disconnect: Why the Internet Hasn’t Changed Politics (Yet) (OR Books, 2014).

No, Your City Can’t be “Smart” Without Citizen Engagement

In a recent piece from our friends at Meeting of the Minds, 4 Strategies to Fix Citizen Engagement, they asked several important questions: “Can a City really be described as ‘Smart’ if it makes changes without consulting with a diverse sample of the citizens affected by these changes before, during, and after projects are implemented? Will citizens adopt Smart Initiatives if they aren’t part of the decision-making process?”

As cities struggle to establish themselves as “smart”, they have rushed to implement IoT (Internet of Things) sensor networks which help to gain insight into the movements and habits of citizens. Sensors are gathering vast amounts of information about how citizens are engaging with their transportation needs, energy use and more – often without their explicit consent. A recent article in the Atlantic asks facetiously, “Why trouble to ask the ‘citizens’ what they want from urban life, when you can accurately surveil the real actions of city’s ‘users’ and decode what they’re actually doing, as opposed to what they vaguely claim they might want to do?”

Civic Networks: The Future of Community Engagement

While the revelations around Cambridge Analytica were startling to many, the truth is that advertising and data mining have always been Facebook’s business model. A recent article in the New Republic highlights that social media platforms have never shied away from “[vacuuming] up all the data they can and [monopolizing] people’s attention in order to make billions in online advertising.”

Understandably, public trust in platforms is at an all-time low. It is becoming harder for people to trust the content that they see on social media – in particular, only 51% of respondents in this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer said that they trusted platforms. It is evident that a new paradigm is necessary: inclusive civic networks​ that encourage ongoing engagement and empower the public as equal partners in the decisions that impact them and the places where they live, work, and play.

PlaceSpeak Launches “SentiMap” for Geospatial Sentiment Analysis

Today, PlaceSpeak launched the beta release of SentiMap, its text-based sentiment analysis feature. This feature is now available to Premium and Organization-Wide customers.

SentiMap represents a significant improvement over traditional methods of analyzing qualitative data (e.g. comments), which can be extremely tedious and time-consuming. In contrast to ‘word clouds’, SentiMap makes it possible to see how people’s’ attitudes differ geospatially. Consultation administrators will now be able to instantly visualize participants’ sentiments in discussion comments along a five-point scale: very positive, positive, neutral, negative, or very negative.

Webinar: Innovative Online Public Consultation on the Ottawa River Watershed

Government departments and agencies need to explore new online tools that will allow citizens to provide input and feedback on key issues.

Watch our recent webinar to learn how Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) used PlaceSpeak as the citizen engagement platform for its study of the Ottawa River Watershed. In this webinar, you will learn:

  • Why PlaceSpeak was the right fit for the ECCC online public engagement
  • Which features and feedback collection tools were used
  • How they promoted the consultation to get more than 40,000 views on their study site
  • How ECCC will leverage the unique features of PlaceSpeak, even after the study’s online public engagement has come to an end
  • Challenges and lessons learned