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Video - Using technology for public engagement, part 2. Presentation by Mack Male

Part 2 of a 2-part series. View part 1 here.

Public engagement is different today; new tools are changing the way we interact as citizens.

Mack D. Male is the Product Development Manager at Questionmark Computing, and Owner of Paramagnus Developments Inc. He is the author of a widely read blog focused on urban affairs in Edmonton and is well known in Edmonton because of his many community projects such as What the Truck?! (all about food trucks in Edmonton). Mack describes himself as a passionate Edmontonian. Edmonton is his city because he likes making things and this is the best place to do that.

In the second part of his presentation to the Alberta Professional Planners Institute about the role of technology (particularly social media) in public engagement, he discusses tools like "311".   "311 online" on the City of Edmonton website is an excellent example of effective 2 way communication. Important information can be sent out to the public, like bus routes, and the public can quickly send specific information to the relevant city department. For example, one can notify animal control if they notice a stray animal on the loose. Mack suggests that 311 works as a citizens reporting tool but it potentially a citizen reporting tool if we leveraged the data that comes in back out to the citizen.

The Public Engagement Calendar on the same website is another example of a good use of technology for public engagement; it can add information to anyone's Google or Outlook feed. But it suffers from insufficient tagging and the repurposing of information for new information feeds.

Male explains that we can make better use of our cell phones and computers. For example, during door to door campaigning in Edmonton, citizens were asked to answer surveys. Instead of filling out paperwork, which would have been later inputted online, citizens were asked the questions, and the answers were inputted online immediately via an app by the door to door surveyors. This not only saved time, but allowed for almost instantiations statistical information to be generated.

Interactive online forums are also very effective in storing and sharing complex information. When people share ideas about a specific issue online, and are able to comment on each other's ideas, information gathering has suddenly become more democratic, since this is a space where people can contribute their ideas at a time and in a place that works with their schedule. It is a useful medium to attain more comprehensive data than one would get in a town hall style public forum.

He talks about the opportunities for public engagement and open data. Maps and open data are real opportunities. Tools like Google Map Maker open up detailed discussions.

Social media is about improving relationships. Male concludes his talk by stating many citizens want to get engaged: we need to find the best way to enable it.

This presentation was a part of the Alberta Professional Planners Institute, Lunch and Learn Session, March 2014.

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