Last Friday we were fortunate to give a presentation at the 2017 APA Colorado State Conference in Telluride, Colorado. In our session, The Next Evolution of Public Hearings, we shared the details of our efforts to help modernize public hearings for local government. This included a discussion of how technology has been reshaping our world and how public hearings are antiquated today, a look at the features of our web application and the process the planning staff at Lakewood has been going through, and lastly the results from our pilot test.
The presentation was to a crowd of around 150 folks, including those from planning departments from around the state of Colorado. The overall feedback was terrific, including a lengthy Q&A session. Below are some of the highlights from the pilot test results followed by some of the more interesting Q&A.
Pilot Test Results
We looked at some metrics that compared the public participation online at lakewoodspeaks.org versus in-person participation.
The first three cases that were heard in Lakewood were not controversial and only 2 – 6 people showed up in-person. But we noticed 5x to 10x people watching the online presentation and 3x that number visiting and learning about the case as you can see in the chart below.
We also validated the importance of content being accessible on all devices as almost half of the site visits were on mobile and tablet devices.
We also shared how the public was notified about the cases, which was some changes to the physical mailers that were sent out. The changes included the addition of a QR code as well as adding the URL to the notices as you can see in the below.
Some of the more interesting questions from the audience included:
What has been Planning Commissioner response?
In Lakewood, the Commissioners love the new system. They appreciate the additional opportunity for public input and find the website intuitive and useful. Most of them are looking forward to eliminating their weekly paper staff reports and going completely paperless!
How do you plan to control comment spam?
This is a balancing act between encouraging maximum public participation through an open forum and full comment moderation. Our beta system has basic comment moderation by City staff for compliance with the comment policy. So far in the testing, comment spam has been non-existent. We will continue to monitor through future cases and make changes if and when necessary.
What was the process like with legal?
The City’s attorneys were involved throughout the development of the system in Lakewood. While there is certainly a hesitancy on the part of attorneys to do anything new or untested, we’ve found that they recognize the need for and benefits of this structural change and have been willing to work through the procedural issues to minimize legal concerns.
Getting the chance to speak directly with a large number of our potential future customers is a thrilling part of conferences like this. We walked away with a number of interested parties who we will be following up with in the months to come.
One of the things we also talked about is what’s on our 2018+ roadmap. These are really exciting and will take some heavy lifting in the coming year:
- No paper packet
- Video comments
- Live questions at hearing
- Integrating with existing staff procedure and software
Now… back to the grindstone. We have a number of features that we’re in the midst of finishing up and QAing. Plus–a new look!