Publicly engaging Loomio

Public consultation, community engagement, public participation – whatever you call it there is an element of public engagement in most projects these days. It may be used to inform funding decisions, initiated in the early phases when scoping out a project, or undertaken (somewhat reluctantly) at the tail end (usually as a requirement by the governing authority). Take it or leave it, consultation and engagement play a huge part in our jobs and the future of our industry.

The process for consultation seems to be relatively broad and the methodology used differs for each project depending on a number of things – target audience, project nature, purpose of the consultation and nearly always budget. With no one-size-fits-all approach there is plenty of room for improvement and we should continually ask ourselves “are we doing this right and how can we do it better?”

So why not take a look at the latest development in this field coming out of New Zealand no less (no bias I promise)? Introducing Loomio, with a tagline ‘Real democracy needs to include everyone’ this start up catches your attention (well maybe not in the Eastern Bloc…). Loomio is described as a ‘decision making platform’ that lets members of a group offer a proposal, discuss its merits, make changes, and register their feelings all along the way. The purpose is simple: ‘Creating a world where it’s easy for anyone to participate in decisions that affect them’.

The difference is the user-friendly interface – an app on your smart phone making it accessible to all – well all of those with smart phones! It also offers privacy, removing emotional barriers to participation.

Credit: Loomio
So far it is being tested all across the globe—from remote villages in India, community hospitals in Vietnam, to government departments and early childhood education centres. Locally, the Wellington City Council is using Loomio to collaborate with citizens in developing policy. Along with many high profile reviews of this product there is even a TED talk about it. You know you’ve made it when you’ve got a TED talk!

Obviously this tool has been developed for a wide variety of decision making, collection of data and opinion polling. However, it is definitely relevant to many of the situations we come across in our day-to-day planning work. It could be used for registering objections for planning permits; Q and A type portals for informing community members on projects; open forums for reporting community issues; receiving feedback on particular projects with specific questions posed – what else do you think it could be useful for or do you have a project now where you could implement this type of technology?

I don’t think that this method of engagement/ data collection would necessarily replace the other mediums of consultation, especially face-to-face forums. But it has the potential to most certainly open up issues to a new, can I say younger or more tech-savvy, audience. Often submissions and objections are heavily dominated by a certain demographic or those with particularly strong opinions. There is the opportunity for this tool to engage with a wider audience and with a simplistic format you would hope more people are likely to get involved – no need to leave the house to have your say.

Given this project is in the startup and testing phase there is little to review in terms of effectiveness and outputs, but if the website and testers’ reviews are anything to go by it looks like exciting times ahead. The company is currently seeking funding donors, as incentives for contributing you can choose from a number of ‘sponsor packages’ ranging from $10 USD to $25,000 USD. Having a laugh at themselves these play up on the ‘kiwiness’ factor, one of these packages offers ‘a handwritten postcard from a Loomio team member, mailed from Aotearoa New Zealand’ and one of the more generous packages includes a meet and greet in NZ with a home-cooked Kiwi dinner – priceless.

Have you heard of other online platforms which allow this kind of consultation and feedback?

Writers note: in all of my research I cannot work out where the name for the company came from. The first reader who can answer this will receive a handwritten postcard from a DLA team member, mailed all the way from Sydney, Australia (seriously).


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