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PlaceSpeak at 2013 Web Summit’s People’s Stage [VIDEO]

Colleen Hardwick at Web Summit

On October 31st, 2013 Colleen Hardwick, CEO and founder of PlaceSpeak, was invited to speak on the People’s Stage at the 2013 Web Summit in Dublin. The topic of her talk was “Authenticating Online Consultation: the Geo-social Paradigm Shift.”

Transcript: PlaceSpeak at Web Summit’s People’s Stage

I’m here to talk to you about our democracy; and I’m here to talk to you about making it real online. My subject is Authenticating Online Consultation.

Democracy has a regulatory process for public consultation. Public consultation through a deliberative process is supposed to create hard evidence to inform our decision-making and public policy development. Those are the outcomes. But sadly, that is not the case. As a result, many people don’t vote; people don’t participate in public decision-making because they are cynical and they are alienated from the process.

The historical model is broken:

  • We used to go to public meetings. but now, only the usual suspects and NIMBY’s are the kinds of people who show up. It is not accessible; most people wouldn’t be caught dead there.
  • We used to be able to know on people’s doors and ask them questions, about how they felt about things going on in their own neighbourhood, but you can do that anymore, because people think it is a home invasion, or you are trying to sell them something.
  • And you can’t use land line telephones if you are trying to deal with in a specific spatial or geographic area, because people don’t have land-line telephones and—if they have them—they don’t answer them.

So we need to be able to consult with people online. But of course, the internet is anonymous, As a result, it has been very difficult for us to be able to obtain any kind of verifiable evidence:

  • We’ve looked at things like ‘gaming of the system’—if someone wants to dominate the process, they getting as many people as they can on there and you have no way of knowing if it is the same person, or where they are coming from.
  • Trolls are an enormous problem when you are dealing with anything controversial.
  • Social media is a wonderful way of obtaining feedback, and you can do things like sentiment analysis. But even by their own admission, Facebook, has 7% of all profiles that are bogus.

We can’t depend on it for what we really need, which is hard evidence to inform our decision-making and our public policy development. Now, of course, to be able to obtain that, there is a little problem and it is called online privacy.

We’ve looked at privacy very carefully, and the solution that we’ve come up with—on the project PlaceSpeak I’ve been working on— is the intersection of ‘church and state’ there. We verify people to place, but we do not pass on the private information to proponents of consultations. We don’t advertise, we don’t sell any data, we use a software as a service model in order to protect the privacy of the people.

I describe what we are doing as privacy by design, but it is still able to provide that verifiable feedback data to proponents of consultations. How do we do that? We do it through a series of automated and opt in measures. When people register , they put in their address, the system verifies them that way. Then we ask them to go through subsequent layers of authentication on an opt in basis.

What we are doing is really geo-social. You create a profile, you determine your settings for privacy, for verification, and your notification settings. So you can say “I want to be notified about things that are relevant to me within a kilometer of my home.”  Or I might be able to choose to be notified about things like housing or education or transportation as the case may be.

What we are trying to accomplish here is a citizen-centered network effect. I can be notified by all levels of government, regulated agencies, private sector, community non-profit organizations about things that are relevant to me; and provide feedback based on proximity.

As more and more open data becomes available through all levels of government this makes it possible for us to be able to share that information with the people, and the power of the people.

We can limit and restrict participation, so that you are hearing from people who live in your own town or neighbourhood—and not someone from Timbuktu. It’s important that we be connecting with the people who are affected by decisions and policies. And that the data that we are providing that is verifiable is going to provide that sound, supportable and defensible evidence to support the process.

At the end of the day, what are we doing it for? We are doing it to help strengthen our democracy in a day and age when people have lost faith in the process, they don’t vote anymore, and they certainly don’t participate in public consultations. until we start to authenticate that online process, we will not be in a position to transform our democracy.

Thank-you very much for coming out, and I hope you will take a chance and look at PlaceSpeak. We really do feel we can make a difference when we are able to take our internet technology to the next level in our democracy.

Cheer! [Applause]


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