Our biggest update yet!

Over the last few months we’ve been quiet and heads-down building new features driven by customer feedback. You talked, we listened!

We recently rolled out our biggest product update yet, including some very useful new tools:

Automating Staff Communication

Managing decision-makers takes a lot of communication: letting them know when to review comments, sending them the public hearing agenda, reminding them of any unread comments the day of the hearing, etc. Now that whole process is automated, eliminating staff work while increasing the utility of the communication by including stats and deep links to specific places on the site.

Increasing Workflow Flexibility

When should the comment period close? When should reminder notices to be sent? Who should receive comment moderation notices? Those and more can now be easily managed by staff admins.

Exposing Engagement Metrics

To make it easier to track down which decision-makers have unread comments, we now display this in the admin for staff to get a quick snapshot of the status.

Advanced Page Editor

This release introduces the first module of our advanced page editor, which allows staff to add as many PDF files to a page as they need. Drag and drop controls make it fast to change the order and make the page support the necessary content and flow for each case.

Messages Dashboard

What happens if one of your staff is out sick or on a holiday and citizens have submitted questions that have yet to be responded to? We’ve added a new section in the admin for each case where any staff can see the messages sent through the site, whether to staff or applicants from citizens. Messages are grouped by email threads of related messages comprised of replies of the original email.

Multi-body!

By far the most expansive update is support for multiple bodies. For example, sites can now support cases from both a Planning Commission and City Council on the site. Filters allow citizens to select the cases relevant to them. Under the hood, staff for each body are able to login and manage cases just for their body but all via the same admin site. Agendas are also separated by body, so decision-makers only see the cases for the public hearing to which they are a part.

We’re excited to see the impact of these new features in the coming months!

New Lakewood Website Encourages Citizen Voices For Planning Board

Via Patch.com

"Lakewood Planning Director Travis Parker believes the city's new online participation tool is boosting participation and transparency.

LAKEWOOD, CO – As more Lakewood residents are becoming concerned with development in the city, Lakewood's Planning Director, Travis Parker, and the staff of the planning department have introduced a new way for residents to participate in public meetings. The city's new public portal Lakewoodspeaks.org has been running for eight months, and Parker writes that it has been a success so far."

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Online comments in public hearing surpasses in-person

We like to talk about unprecedented change facilitated by technology, such as:

“E-mail is not a threat,” said USPS spokesperson Susan Brennan in a 2001 Wired article. “(Postal mail) is universal. The Internet is not.” In the US at that time, the postal mail system peaked, when 104 Million 1st Class letters were sent. Shortly thereafter E-mail became the dominant form of communication while postal number have fallen sharply and steadily since then.

Last night witnessed a watershed moment in public hearings: planning commissioners received more comments via Lakewoodspeaks.org than in-person. The planning commission case, a zoning ordinance amendment, received nearly double the comments on the website as compared to in the courtroom. Online views of the presentations continue to far outstrip in-person attendance as well.

Here’s the stats:

In-person attendance
60

Online video views (4/8 – 4/18)
107

Online visits (unique pageviews 4/8 – 4/18)
246

In-person comments
10

Online comments
17

Our new look!

Back in August when we launched our beta on lakewoodspeaks.org, under the hood the software was a brand new web application–all shiny and new. But the aesthetic of the site, everything that the public sees, was still the design from our summer prototype. It was functional, but a bit antiquated. We’re excited to share that we’ve completed and launched a new look!

The new look follows modern design patterns and presents a professional interface focused on usability and functionality, including:

  • Minimal design that is bold and simple, making the site easy to navigate and find the content that is relevant to them.
  • Responsively designed to present equally well on mobile phones, tablets, and desktop computer.
  • Clean and bold typography with plenty of spacing, effective visual hierarchy, limited font colors, etc.
  • A brand new large “hero image” and headline for the homepage where citizens will start their journey when they are coming from the city’s direct mail campaigns.
  • Big buttons that stand out and are easy to find.
  • Simplified iconography to improve first time visits.

We’re excited to see how the new look helps increase the ability for citizens to participate in public hearings!

Decision-Maker Toolset Launched!

We’re proud to announce the introduction a new set of decision-maker features that help modern public hearings. These features eliminate staff inefficiency, reduce dependency and cost associated with the use of paper, and improve government transparency for constituents.

Background:

Currently, the public hearings are generally facilitated as follows:

  1. A “Staff Report” is assembled by staff that contains a copy of all the materials relating to the cases that will be heard at a given public hearing. Each case includes application materials, maps, comment letters and so on. Staff Reports can easily be dozens of pages. One is delivered to each decision-maker (i.e. a City Council Member or Planning Commissioner) for each public hearing.
  2. The decision-maker reads through the Staff Report in advance of the public hearing.
  3. At the public hearing, the staff and applicants make their presentation and then citizens are able to standup and make a comment that is heard and acknowledged by the decision-makers who are present.

The toolset we’ve released offers this same workflow, online.

All the materials relating to cases are uploaded to the website and an agenda and “staff report” are now created automatically. Staff email decision-makers a special URL that takes them to an agenda for the upcoming public hearing that lists the cases that they need to review. Decision-makers can review each case in advance of the public hearing.

When decision-makers review citizens comments on a case online, we track and acknowledge it online such that the citizen can view and see their feedback was reviewed.

When we shared the concept of this decision-maker toolset and asked the Lakewood Planning Commissioners for feedback, nearly all of them said they preferred to go paperless. Besides the obvious sustainability benefits of being paperless (huge report delivered to a dozen folks every two weeks is a LOT of paper), the online staff report is also much faster to assemble: it is automatic.

While we’ve rolled this out now it will not be tested with live cases until Jan 2018. We’re excited to see how it is adopted!

If you’re interested in learning more about how to bring truly public hearings to your part of the country, please contact us.

We hope everyone has a wonderful and rejuvenating holiday.