Four City of Edmonton employees are unleashing a mega-passion for building a new relationships between the City and the people it serves.
From their main floor City Hall location, Office of Public Engagement staff are charting new courses in the development of strong, longer-lasting and much more highly informative two-way relationships with citizens of every description.
They’re on the leading edge of an evolution in public engagement. And they’re inviting all areas of the City operation to use their services.
Getting public feedback used to be simple – a government could telephone-poll its citizens, then use the results to help it make decisions.
But these days, only 58% of Albertans have a land-based phone line (just 39% for the under 35 crowd), and most people don’t answer calls from pollsters. Telephone surveys are therefore becoming less reliable, and also more expensive because they require more phone calls to get representative samples.
“We’ve re-thought the whole process of engaging with the public,” says program manager Cory Segin, “and what we’ve come up with represents innovation both in what we do, and how we do it.”
In just its first year, the engagement team has reached out in many ways to encourage 2,000 Edmontonian volunteers to join what’s called the Edmonton Insight Community. These people have agreed to receive periodic emails with links to nifty, usually highly-visual surveys about a wide variety of topics, from city finances to school zone speed limits.
“Next year, we’d like to see 5,000 members in the Community,” says market researcher Mark Boulter.
At the same time, recognizing that the Insight Community is just one of many types of effective consultation, the team is pursuing new ways of improving face-to-face consultation, which remains an essential part of City engagement.
The Insight Community uses an impressive new web-based polling tool, Vision Critical’s Sparq, which offers a variety of visual techniques to frame questions. Examples include image drag-and-drop, highlighter to indicate interest-areas of a photo, map or web page, and embedded streaming video or PDF documents that people can see or read before responding to questions.
Results are impressive.
The team recently did a survey on school zone speed limits, comparing Insight Community results with a traditional telephone poll. Insight Community results (free, complete in 48 hours, 650 respondents) were identical to the telephone poll ($2,500, two weeks, 300 respondents).
“Not only is the Community a more nimble way of gathering information, but the data we gather is much richer than a standard telephone poll,” says Cory.
“We know their age, gender, education, income, community league, major method of transportation, language, number of children and how they answered many, many other questions on previous surveys.
“We can easily correlate responses on one issue with subsequent responses about other issues. And because they’ve volunteered for the long haul, as more people join the Community, we’ll be able to survey more highly-defined target groups, like parents or people who live in Belgravia and ride bikes.”
Mark adds: “The input the Community gives us is far more useful that what we’d get from telephone surveys.”
Cory sees the day when detailed analytical studies (for example, to help predict crime patterns) can be enriched with overlays from Insight Community members (who might have been asked if they feel safe in their neighbourhoods).
So far, the team has completed 35 surveys for City departments. They encourage anyone who lives in Edmonton, or owns property here, to join the Insight Community.