IAP2 Presentation: Authenticating Online Consultation
Here are the slides for PlaceSpeak CEO Colleen Hardwick’s session at the International Association for Public Participation’s (IAP2) North American Conference in Salt Lake City today. Colleen’s speaking notes can be found below the presentation.
Abstract: Authenticating Online Consultation: the Geosocial paradigm Shift
Technology now exists to overcome some of most salient pathologies of democratic governance. The Internet offers fresh potential to reinvigorate civic engagement. Online tools can extend participation well beyond traditional bounds of public hearings. However, online consultation thus far has met with varying degrees of success and does not stand up to scrutiny. This is because online consultation has been anonymous and until consultation is tied to actual observable outcomes people and government will not take it seriously. Public policy development and decision-making needs better online engagement tools that produce defensible data. Enter the new model: Geosocial online public consultation.
Public Consultation is a regulatory process whereby the public’s input is sought on matters affecting them. Its main goals are improving the efficiency and transparency of public involvement in decision-making or policy development. Consultations occur at all levels: neighbourhood, municipal, regional, state/provincial, national or even international. Regulations exist in both the public and private sectors.
Historical Model is Broken
Today, the public are generally cynical about public consultation, just as they are about voting generally. They believe that they do not have a voice and that decisions are a foregone conclusion: consultation is a charade conducted to manufacture consent. Historically, consultation was conducted through public meetings, door-knocking and land-line telephone polling. That model is broken.
Anonymity Breeds Contempt
Online consultation to date hasn’t been much better as it is anonymous and fraught with troll attacks. Furthermore, it is not associated with location, and results are easily skewed by gaming the system. Feedback obtained from white-labeled surveys, polls and social media is anecdotal and not place-specific. To combat this, solutions are being developed to obtain sentiment analysis. Technology exists however to “make it real” by authenticating digital identity on the web in order to genuinely affect outcomes.
Privacy & Digital Identity
Authenticating digital identity to place has its complications. People do not want to share the home address online because they do not want to be directed marketed / advertised to and they do not want to have their personal information sold. How to protect privacy? Comes down to the revenue model. Cannot sell personal information and cannot advertise to people. The solution is to firewall private information but still ensure that the individual has been vetted sufficiently to pass muster.
Obtaining authenticated feedback data translates to hard evidence to inform decision-making and policy development. It provides actionable information that can lead directly to outcomes.
Connecting Digital Identity to Place
How do we connect people to place and prove it? There are a series of automated procedures but ultimately the individual must opt in. There are many ways to verify location and more coming available through open data access. People should be able to choose from a list of options for verification. NextDoor, which bills itself as “Private Social Networks for Neighborhoods” verifies its users to place.
Once digital identity is verified to place, then the data generated becomes defensible and can genuinely influence outcomes. Individual citizens need to be able to control their settings and freely choose which consultations that want to engage in and when, according to their preferences. We have learned a great deal about social media and its impact on behavior. To quote Marshall McLuhan, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”
Citizen-Centric Network Effect
Imagine, you can be notified online of activities in your neighborhood that are relevant to you. Currently, signs are erected, or you receive a flyer in the mail. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be informed according to our preferences, and then provide feedback informed by proximity. Consultations can come from all different sources, because that’s the way it works in the real world. Consultations may come from the public or private sector, or from community groups.
Geofencing and Geocoding
Proponents of consultations need to hear from their constituents within geographical boundaries. This comes back to the privacy question. Providing a zip code without verification is insufficient as a defensible data point. Wise decision-making is informed by place.
Different types of consultations, and potentially elections, need to focus on public feedback within specific boundaries, and by reliability of data. For this reason, we are already seeing proponents of consultations requiring additional levels of authentication in order to participate.
Open Data – Systematizing
Establishing a standardized schema or feed for public consultation can keep citizens informed and involved on a systematized basis.
Lessons from the IAP2 Spectrum
There are numerous applications specializing in each stage of the spectrum of public impact. Inserting verified identity into the mix can help leverage the network effect and help engender sustained public participation.
The good news is that the geo-social paradigm shift is upon us. Once digital identity is verified to place then the data becomes defensible and can genuinely influence outcomes. At the heart of the paradigm shift is defensible data. The ability to generate hard evidence to inform decision-making is key to the value proposition.
Real Time – Real Data
By virtue of dynamically geocoding feedback data, it is possible obtain real-time evidence in a transparent fashion.
Making it real. This has the potential to truly transform western democracy.