We hosted a successful webinar yesterday, How to Manage Citizen Feedback and Reduce Overhead.
Nearly 60 governments attended to hear Citywide Records Manager, Wendy Klock-Johnson from the City of Sacramento, discuss how the city successfully streamlined citizen participation with a new tool called eComment and why social media didn’t work!
Wendy posted a blog article on the Granicus Blog – I wanted to share it because it includes some key tips and take aways from the webinar.
Here’s an excerpt! I encourage you to read the article, Top Webinar Tips – How to Manage Citizen Feedback and Reduce Overhead, and share your thoughts with her or tell us if you are interested in learning more about eComment:
needed—streamlined citizen feedback on our official business—we realized we needed something that fit seamlessly with our existing public meeting and public information processes.
Why didn’t social media solve our problem?
- It didn’t easily integrate with our public process or allow us to centrally capture, measure, and retain comments. Social media required constant monitoring and it did not allow comments to
flow smoothly into our public meeting setting. eComment allowed us to implement a ‘social media-like’ environment that collects the opinions of citizens except it gave us an entire workflow to collect, manage, track, and retain citizen input without creating extra work for staff.
- It didn’t ensure compliance with Public Records and Open Government Laws. For citizen comments that pertain to business matters, we needed a framework and workflow that allowed us to capture and retain them like we would any other public record. The various social media channels
didn’t achieve this. And they didn’t ensure we were upholding ethical and legal standards. See how eCommment fits into our legislative process: Public Participation at Legislative Meetings.
Why encourage online participation through a meeting portal and
workflow on your website?
It’s not clear to me whether or not citizens can see the comments made by other citizens, either before or after they comment.
Step 6 at the bottom of the Sacramento eComment brochure shows an example of a comment report but it seems to indicate that it’s only City staff and council who see it, is that correct?
Hi Griff –
Great question! For Sacramento and some of our other clients, the comments are not visible to the public right away. They were concerned this would create “chat room” like environment where there is dialogue occurring before the official meeting. This “meeting before the meeting” concept is not acceptable under open meeting laws.
The comment report may, however, be published after the fact, which is what Sacramento has decided to do. They treat the comments like public testimony which becomes apart of their digital public record.
Actually, if you read the side bar of Step 6 in the brochure it says it will be published to the internet.
“eComment will close at
12:00 pm on the day of
the meeting. A report of
the information will be
published to agenda
package eRoom and the
internet. If given the
user’s name and council
district is displayed.”
So you’re saying that eComment can be configured so that comments are always visible to anyone who visits?
If so, can you point me to a client who does it that way?
I don’t see how it would be a violation of open meeting laws if it’s only citizens, not elected officials, who are submitting comments.
Sorry if i wasn’t clear, i meant, no. The system cannot be configured to show comments as they are submitted. Monitoring was an issue that clients were concerned with so we did not include this in the current version of eComment. Is this something you would be interested in?
However, after the meeting has occurred, some clients are choosing to publish the report for the public to see.
Currently, the comments are submitted and aggregated into a formalized report for all the elected members.
Lauren, I understand why your clients would be shy about monitoring/approving the comments for all to see. It’s the same issue with Facebook Wall comments or blog comments.
I think there’s a significant benefit, however, for citizens to listen/read to what others have posted before they weigh in. That’s what usually happens at open mic at a council meeting. Citizen A states their opinion. Citizen B follows with “I agree with Citizen A but there’s another aspect…” And Citizen C can follow with “I disagree with Citizens A and B because…”
That’s a much richer, complex commenting process and eComment should offer it. Otherwise, it’s just a more sophisticated version of people blindly submitting emails or filling out a Contact Us form.
Also, I’m guessing that staff and elected officials are NOT going to want to read 17 comments on an agenda item that are virtually the same, for the same reason that a Mayor who chairs a council meeting asks the public stepping up to open mic if their comments are substantially different than the previous speakers.
Lastly, I’m not suggesting that eComment allow more than one comment from the same person (like the comment thread we have going here on your GovLoop blog post). An agenda item isn’t the time and place for a gov’t-hosted roundtable discussion. Again, open mic guidelines should apply to eComment, ie, listen to others and then you have your one and only chance to speak up.
That’s an excellent idea. I can’t make any promises on specific features but we are looking at ways of making our citizen participation platform more collaborative, open and social. I think properly emulating the “open mic” concept is a great way of looking at it. Another important aspect of the product in the future will be blending the on-line and in-person experience so each commenter truly gets equal representation in the meeting process. We have a ways to go before we are there but it’s an exciting concept for us!
Good to hear, Javier.
Last year, I proposed something similar to this (“online open mic”) to the City Council in Northfield, MN (where I live). No luck so far!
Here’s my blog post about it with 80+ comments attached. I’ll try to revive the discussion there.