PlaceSpeak 2018 in Review

As 2018 draws to a close, we reflect on some of the challenges and opportunities that have emerged over the past year. While online methods are no longer optional for decision-makers wanting to engage with the public, privacy and security have become top of mind. PlaceSpeak continues to offer solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing online democratic participation and citizen engagement today.

Starting with the explosive Cambridge Analytica revelations, it became evident that social media could no longer be trusted to serve as a legitimate online forum for civic and political engagement. Social networks’ advertising-based revenue model was trading users’ personal data for clicks – and by extension, for cash. In contrast, PlaceSpeak started to develop on the concept of civic networks – privacy-protected online networks which are tied to place-based communities, such as streets, neighborhoods, schools, homeowner or renters’ associations, and more. This idea has gained traction, including a recent feature on Apolitical’s blog.

We also had to consider challenges around privacy in our own communities. In Canada, municipalities across the country took part in the federal government’s Smart Cities Challenge. PlaceSpeak – and prominent privacy advocates such as Ann Cavoukian – highlighted the importance of ensuring that smart cities didn’t become “surveillance cities”. The continued controversies surrounding the development of the Quayside “smart” neighbourhood in Toronto suggest that these concerns are not likely to diminish any time soon.

In 2018, a wide range of Government of Canada departments also started to use PlaceSpeak, starting with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) Ottawa River Watershed study. Since then, PlaceSpeak has been used in consultations on reducing plastic waste, trade and gender, Western economic diversification, preserving Canadian heritage, and more. PlaceSpeak’s unique ability to facilitate productive and meaningful conversation with authenticated participants also brought new use cases. This year, we saw the platform used to conduct dialogues on a wide range of controversial issues, including on a proposed immigration detention centre in Indiana, and gun control in Vermont. These approaches have not gone unnoticed: PlaceSpeak received the 2018 SAP® Pinnacle Award as the SAP Purpose-Driven Partner Application of the Year, which recognizes an application which is delivering significant social benefits.

Based on feedback from our clients and extensive research, our Development team has continued to improve our platform to make it even easier to host and manage consultations on PlaceSpeak. The re-designed interface included advanced insights, analytics and additional options for data visualization, granular security and visibility options, and the ability to manage multilingual content (English and French currently available, with additional options anticipated). We are currently in the process of improving the participant experience to make taking part in a consultation even more intuitive and engaging, and will be releasing the new interface in the new year.

Of course, we couldn’t have done it without all of you. Thank you for being part of the future of community engagement! We’re heartened by decision-makers who demonstrate the value of strengthening the public input process and including community voices. We remain inspired by our civically engaged users who take the time to contribute to their communities and shape better places to live, work and play.

Here’s to 2019!