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TECTERRA 2015: Thinking Out of the Box of Neighborhood Boundaries

Thinking Out of the Box with PlaceSpeak

Thinking Out of the Box with PlaceSpeakPlaceSpeak was fortunate to have been invited to participate in the 2015 TECTERRA Showcase in Calgary last week, rubbing shoulders with some of the latest and greatest innovators of geospacial technology, including hardware and software companies, technology incubators, government legislators and assorted investment personalities.

The technology featured at TECTERRA was diverse.  From start-ups offering proprietary big data solutions for specific market verticals, to simple consumer solutions to help people maneuver through their community, work and life more efficiently.  From the revolutionary to the evolutionary, TECTERRA showcased several dozen companies that were taking the world of geomatics and geospacial data to new levels of competency and innovation.

The keynote speakers were equally enlightening, with Nolan Bushnell of Atari and Chuck E.Cheese fame, taking the main stage.  His presentation started with some bold statements, claiming the self driving electric car would take over the transportation world in the near future.  I say bold because, remember, he was talking to an audience in Alberta, where oil is still an economic staple.  And, his comments were initially met by some with polite smiles and raised eyebrows.  However, by the end of the presentation, he managed to back it all up with solid fact and historical precedent.

I think Mr. Bushnell’s presentation also encouraged a few people to reconsider their strategies going forward – if only on a small scale – and explore securing their resources from different categories in addition to knowing when to cut a resource loose.  I’ll paraphrase here:

“If you want your people to think out of the box, hire people that are already out of the box.  The kids with the purple hair and who dress funny are the out of the box thinkers.  The non-conformists.  You want out of the box, creative thought?  Go there.”

“That shouldn’t be confused with the behavior of the ‘Devil’s Advocate’.  I give the Devil’s Advocate three chances before I let them go.  If someone wants to play Devil’s Advocate, they better have a solution ready as well.  I don’t want Naysayers, I want possibility-thinkers.”

“But to accomplish all this means you need a work environment that nurtures these creative individuals.  Case in point:  Steve Jobs.  When I hired him, he was clearly a challenge to work with.  So I created a night shift, and put him on that, by himself.  And then Steve Wozniak came along and those two helped create the game “Breakout” for Atari.  Everyone has the capacity of being successful if you allow yourself and your business to be flexible.”

Again I paraphrased a lot of this, but his main points are all there.

We here at PlaceSpeak consider ourselves to be somewhat out-of-the-box thinkers in the traditional public consultation space.  After all, most public consultations consist of a billboard, and perhaps an open house that includes a box of coffee, a bag of donuts, and a microphone where people can get up and share their thoughts on a subject.  Conversely, PlaceSpeak offers the same thing through an online forum that is accessible 24 hours a day, in the comfort of your own home.  The snack, of course, is your own responsibility.

The people who participate in a consultation that leverages the PlaceSpeak platform may or may not be out-of-the-box thinkers, but their feedback is certainly not the norm.  I say this because the norm is usually filled with a lot of noise, at least in an online format.  We’ve all seen the online comment boards and discussion forums that fill up with derogatory comments, slang, and commercial solicitations.  However, with PlaceSpeak we find that when a person completes the authentication process in the platform, the noise of the discussion decreases exponentially. When neighbors are speaking with neighbors, we find people just naturally become more neighborly.  And who wouldn’t want that?

This out-of-the-box approach using PlaceSpeak has proven itself time and again that citizens have something to say, but don’t have the flexibility in their schedules to attend an open house in person.  The online medium has also shown that PlaceSpeak engages severalfold more citizens than conventional means, but at a significantly lower cost.  Even further, the people that participate online do so in a private and secure manner, without duress, resulting in feedback that is candid, honest and of perceptibly higher quality.  Sometimes, this can trouble a proponent because the feedback might not conform with their goals.  However, the feedback is no less valuable, and needs to be considered.  So, what do you do?  Do you fire the citizen for thinking in a manner contrary to your vision, or do you consider their feedback, and perhaps modify your plans?  The obvious answer is that the feedback needs to be considered, providing it’s not just a whinefest, and contains sober, thoughtful ideas.  Inevitably, the consultation may open up opportunities to expand or reduce services, or simply conduct another consultation because new opportunities were discovered in the original effort.

As an example, PlaceSpeak ran a transportation consultation around the twinning of a multi-lane bridge that connected several communities and economies.  The feedback from the citizens offered some alternative views, and the counselors from the cities involved decided to take a step back and review the original plans.  The citizen feedback gave everyone a better perspective on the project, and resulted in modest revisions to the plans that meant both communities and citizens would be served in a manner consistent with their goals and desired quality of life.  This kind of consultation would never have occurred had the people from all sides not connected and discussed the matter with their leaders, and amongst themselves.  In this case, online was the way to go, and it meant a very diverse group of folks from all sides were able to be heard.  Even more importantly, PlaceSpeak’s technology could prove that the people’s opinions were actual residents and voters from the community holding the consultation; opinions didn’t originate from some anonymous random tourist that stumbled into the process through social media.  This technology is what brought PlaceSpeak to TECTERRA in the first place, and continues to differentiate us from our competitors and from conventional public consultation practices.

The point of public consultation here is that we actually WANT to get the feedback from the outliers, the non-conformists, the out-of-the-box thinkers.  That kind of feedback is good, and we believe PlaceSpeak nurtures feedback from these types of thinkers.  We certainly don’t want the naysayers, the complainers, or the Devil’s Advocates.  We have enough of them at every turn, and every consultation in PlaceSpeak enables a proponent to vet the whining from their results.  The next time you craft your public consultation, consider building in some checks and balances that give merit to people with good ideas, but minimizes the feedback from people who only show up to complain.  At PlaceSpeak, we can help you craft such a consultation using our platform, and include all kinds of tools to assist with outreach, ratings, rankings, surveys, polls, and more.  We’ll connect you to an audience that is thoughtful and civilly-engaged.  We’ll show you how your online consultation can be completed efficiently, cost-effectively, and in a way that promotes meaningful dialog among citizens that truly have your best interests in mind.


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