Mayoralty candidate Fred Haynes engages residents on the priorities for Saanich

Saanich residents now have a new, open and non-partisan way to share their views on key issues in the lead-up to the 20th October election. Saanich Councillor and Mayoralty candidate Fred Haynes today launched a PlaceSpeak page where residents can engage in a transparent online dialogue in a safe, secure and privacy-respecting format.

“Several key issues such as tent city, lack of housing options, urban green space, traffic, transit, and others are top of mind for our residents,” announced Haynes. “I believe all of Council and Saanich will benefit from hearing more from our residents on these issues.”

We Shouldn’t (and No Longer Need To) Trade Privacy for Public Input

This is a guest blog post by Tamara Little, founder and owner of Coast Communications and Public Affairs

Remember the good old days – a few months ago even – when project proponents and governments thought social media was the best way to engage with citizens and could do it for free? Well, it turns out these “free” tools may not be effective for consultation and weren’t free at all. They traded the public’s privacy for their input.

Governments, businesses and organizations have been relying on social media, particularly Facebook, for “two-way” communication and engagement. But it turns out they were simply pushing the cost to their citizens and stakeholders, who were paying with their personal data. Many of these online tools purported to be about community, but they were about data collection and ad sales.

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.