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PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: August 17, 2012

Project Fitzgerald integrates Google Street View with a public input system.

We’ve been on a Blog Roundup hiatus for a few months as we jam full speed ahead on projects in Mississippi, Chattanooga, Erie, Albany, Seattle, Hawaii, Virginia, Arkansas, Denver, and Tennessee, with a healthy dose of conference presentations and training workshops for good measure. But we’re back in the Blog Roundup Saddle …

OpenPlans describes their newest tool for using Google Street View for planning, Project Fitzgerald. Project Fitzgerald, a follow-up to Beautiful Streets (another very cool project) is designed to gather public input on a block-by-block basis.

BMW Guggenheim Lab reflects on their Berlin Lab project, describing some of their participatory engagement strategies.

Engaging Cities has a pile of great stories: web-based games promoting civic literacy created by iCivics, some unusual participatory city planning activities, a research paper on the role of digital media in deliberative decision-making, and the use of augmented reality in neighborhood engagement on development projects.

CoolTown Studios explores the idea of “crowdsourced placemaking.”

The always-insightful Ethan Zuckerman explores some of the complicated equity implications of crowdfunding public infrastructure.

Next American City reports on the public participation element of Chicago’s new cultural plan.

Gov 2.0 Watch cites the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials on the use of crowdsourcing to improve transportation planning. I’m not entirely persuaded by the comparison of transportation public engagement to product development, but the notion of integrating crowdsourcing (which doesn’t have much to do with product development, per se) can actually be pretty useful.

Gov 2.0 Watch also summarizes a new Civic Tripod report by the International Journal of Learning and Media on the impact of mobile games on civic engagement.

Nina Simon published a fascinating piece, drawing on a new paper by Colby College professor Lynne Conner, exploring the idea that the experience of art in Western culture was historically deeply participatory. The understanding of the audience as passive and non-participatory, her argument goes, is a relatively recent development. Becoming more participatory, for art and cultural organizations, might actually be returning to its roots rather than creating a new paradigm.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: March 14, 2012

Participatory mapping in action (the from TheCityFix blog, is by Lee Shiver.).

The City Fix describes some examples and some of the value of participatory mapping in urban planning.

Engaging Cities blogs on a similar theme, writing about the use of maps in community decision-making.

The New York Times has a lengthy piece on IBM’s Smarter Cities implementation in Rio de Janeiro and IBM’s vision of a data-driven city.

We keep coming across more info about the new crop of massive, multi-touch, multi-user tables, including a promotional video from Ideum on their MT55 Pro 55″ (with a “vandal-proof case”), starting at $22,000. Yes, we are drooling.

NCDD reports on a Chris Quigley presentation about using gamification to support digital engagement.

Augmented reality technology continues moving forward. Although the tools they use here – a promotional app for a hotel – are pretty advanced, they give a sense of where AR technology is headed and the types of applications that might be useful in a decision-making context.

Open Source Planning offers some thoughts on open data and on the hype around City 2.0. It’s helpful to us in thinking about our upcoming “Community Engagement in Intelligent Cities” panel at the American Planning Association conference in April.

Ascentum makes an argument about validating the economic case for public involvement in policy decisions.

InCommon mentions a new e-commenting system adopted by the City of Arcata, CA. The Granicus system allows community members to submit comments online in response to the agenda items listed for the next public meeting of the City Council or other public bodies. We’ve been using the system in Golden, Colorado for a couple of years now, and while its functionality is pretty basic and use by Golden residents is pretty minimal, it does offer another channel for providing comments. It’s really just a web-based commenting system, though, and doesn’t break any decision-making ground.

And this time-lapse video from the International Space Station made the Roundup just because it’s cool.

What else did we miss?

Eric Gordon on Gamification, Planning and the Engagement Game Lab

Eric is the Director of the Engagement Game Lab and a professor at Emerson College.

Eric is the Director of the Engagement Game Lab and a professor at Emerson College.

Over the past year, we were really excited (here & here) about the prospect of gamification in planning. Dr. Eric Gordon, professor at Emerson College and founder of the Engagement Game Lab (EGL), gave us some of his time to answer some questions about EGL and the past, present, and future of gamification. We really think Eric and his team are doing fascinating and fun work, we hope you do too!

Tell me a little about yourself and how you ended up doing this work?

My Ph.D. studies at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts focused on emerging media and urbanism. I was interested in how new media forms constructed the idea of the city in American popular culture. My dissertation work was the foundation of my first book, The Urban Spectator: American Concept-cities from Kodak to Google. But this work led me to consider just how new media not only shaped the idea of the city, but was capable of shaping the practice of the city. When I moved to Boston in 2004 to take a job as a professor at Emerson College, I began talking to people in City Hall about some of these ideas. In 2007, in partnership with the City and Gene Koo at Harvard’s Berkman Center, we got our first project off the ground. It was called Hub2, and it sought to use the virtual world Second Life to engage local communities in Boston in thinking about urban planning. I explored these ideas in depth in my most recent book, co-authored with Adriana de Souza e Silva, called Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World. From there, I began to do many other projects and in 2010 formed the Engagement Game Lab. Continue reading

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: June 30, 2011

The National Consumer Council and Involve published a short report on the nine principles of deliberative public engagement.

The Brookings Institute has a new report on using social media to reinvigorate engagement. It’s campaign-focused, but it’s insightful assessment of how the intersection between social media and public participation is likely to evolve (and the implications are largely about citizen engagement more generally).

countably infinite has a nice wrap-up of Open Gov West 2011. One observation: it would be easy to see new public engagement tools like Crowdbrite and PlaceSpeak as substitutes for face-to-face engagement (and, in fact, Crowdbrite’s pitch sounds like it was positioned against conventional public hearings). We are no fans of conventional public hearings, and we are pretty jazzed about the ways tools like Crowdbrite can expand public engagement, but in our view it’s important to make sure they only supplement rather than displace real human-to-human interaction.

The Knight Foundation blogs about their new report, Civic Engagement and Community Information: Five Strategies to Revive Civic Communication. Some of the report’s recommendations are more national in scope, but some make sense at the local level: invest in face-to-face public deliberation, generate public “relational” knowledge, and building public networks focused on sharing and debate public information.

inCommon blogs about a civic participation project in Michigan targeting 6th graders. The students will play a role in designing a new town park.

EngagingCities argues for the use of participation metrics in online communities. These very same types of metrics have a lot of relevance in offline communities, as well.

EngagingCities also offers some tips on using Facebook fan pages for community participation efforts and some thoughts on gamification and community engagement.

Deliberations offers a favorable word about OurSay.org, a tool for facilitating deliberation by allowing people to post questions and participants to comment and vote on those questions.

The National Charrette Institute invites a discussion about the next generation of charrettes.

James Fee’s GIS Blog reviews and reflects on Google Earth Builder in two posts, “Google Earth Builder – a Serious Geospatial Play from Google” and “All Hail Google Earth Builder, Wait … What?

Next American City explores a new book about the increasingly technological city: Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Spaces.

On the PlaceMatters blog, Jocelyn writes about two of our projects, with collaborator Civil Resources, winning APA Colorado Merit Awards (comprehensive plans for Lyons and Woodland Park), and Ken ruminates on the relationship between livable streets and driving and uses SketchUp to gain some perspective on M.C. Escher’s famous “Waterfall.”

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: April 19, 2011

A high-end, high-def, multiuser, multi-touch table. Photo by flickr user ideum.


FutureGov has a really nice overview of Planning 2.0 concepts and tools (thanks to Engaging Cities for the link).

Engaging Cities posted the slide deck from their “What’s Next for Planning Technology” panel at the APA conference, and it’s worth a look if you didn’t make the session. Their ten: text messaging, social media, mobile interaction, 311 reporting, virtual worlds and gaming, community mapping, crowdsourcing planning, interactive data, augmented reality, and touch tables. Most of these are subjects and technologies close to our heart at PlaceMatters: powerful tools that can, if integrated thoughtfully, add a great deal of power to a community engagement process.

countably infinite reflects on the APA conference and gives our Beers in Beantown event a nice shout-out.

Open Source Planning also offers a nice word about our Beers in Beantown event and mentions IMMBYs (“I Mapped My Backyard”) and their implications for planning.

Cairns Blog posts a thoughtful reflection on the open government movement.

Planetizen reports on the upcoming Urban Design Marathon (quoting from a Good Magazine article): “A hundred designers, 10 urban challenges, very little money, and no sleep. That’s the recipe for 72 Hour Urban Action, a three-day marathon for designers to improve their city.” This approach doesn’t include any public engagement elements, but it fits the charrette model of quickly and intensively powering through what is often a very long, drawn-out process. The really interesting twist would be figuring out how to fold in real community participation.

You know QR codes are starting to hit the mainstream when the Denver Post writes about them. Although their use is still early-stage (but growing in buzz and popularity), they can clearly have value in public processes. Mashable offers some tips for making your QR codes a little more interesting.

A guest post on Museum 2.0 covers civility and conviviality in museum design, the idea of which seems to translate well to designing public engagement. A good design will enable people to “share their common humanity and to offer opportunities not only for learning and social engagement, but also for reflection and solitude in the presence of others,” and, in the case of community engagement, help lead to genuinely participatory decision-making.

SocialFish posts a great slide deck on the seven core concepts of effective gamification. Whether gamification per se makes sense in a community engagement process will depend a lot on the process and the circumstances, but elements of good gamification are probably useful in process design regardless. Their seven core concepts: 1) know who’s playing; 2) Build fun, pleasure, and satisfaction into your core activity loop; 3) Change the user experience over time; 4) Build a system that’s easy to learn but hard to master; 5) Use game mechanics to light the way towards mastery; 6) As players progress, increase the challenge and complexity; 7) Embrace intrinsic motivators.

The Augmented Reality Blog writes about the future of the technology. It seems pretty likely that augmented reality tools, as they mature, will become an important component of community engagement efforts.

On the PlaceMatters blog, Ken reviewed a pile of new online idea creation tools (and the winners are: Spigit and UserVoice), Jocelyn talked about avoiding public participation pitfalls, and I ruminated on the magic of good decision-making.

ReadWriteWeb reports on Microsoft’s new software development kit for the Kinect, scheduled for release this spring. While you can do a lot with clever hacks of the existing device, the SDK opens things up a lot, enabling third party developers to create a wide range of applications that take advantage of the Kinect’s cutting-edge motion sensing technology. We should expect to see plenty of innovations with direct application to community decision-making.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: March 30, 2011

I had a week off because of a few conferences in Washington, D.C. (including the terrific Nonprofit Technology Conference) and then an unplanned week away from the office as a raging wildfire threatened my town (we learned some great lessons about communication, community, and social media – I’ll blog about that separately), but I’m back and have got a great set of links to share . . .

PlaceMatters is presenting a panel at the APA conference in Boston in a couple of weeks called “What to do When Public Participation Goes Terribly Wrong?” Ken, who is a Planetizen blogger as well as the PlaceMatters‘ CEO, posted on the panel and invites folks to send in their own stories of near misses or total disasters. (He also cross-posted on our blog).

Bridges of B offers a lengthy description and generally favorable critique of Akoha, a civics-minded mobile-based direct action game. It offers a game-based platform for creating community-oriented missions, using game mechanics to motivate engagement. One criticism: “Place matters, especially in civics,” and Akoha doesn’t tie to one’s place very well, but Bridges of B seems pretty enthused about Ahoka as an early stab, and about the promise of the approach more generally.

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation links to a National School Public Relations Association post called “Recipes for Innovation in Public Engagement,” focused on community engaging in the context of public education.

The Irish Cultural Center blogged about a photography project in which the subject of each photograph held a Polaroid image of the previous subject, so each photograph subject is connected to the person photographed just prior and the one photographed just afterwards. (Thanks for the link, Ethan!).

Ragtag posted a terrific (Euro- and Wikipedia-centric) data visualization relying on a cross-referencing of the location and date data in Wikipedia articles on historic events. (This one was Ethan, as well).

Reimagine Rural describes their Front Porch Forums tool, a social media application designed for smaller, rural communities. They contrast the tool with conventional social media languages and tools: it’s designed to encourage face-to-face interaction (rather than designed to maximize the time engaged with the tool). It’s focused more on general community and civic engagement as opposed to community decision-making, but it seems applicable to a wider range of situations. One post describes the Front Porch Forum and the other post has a short video explanation.

Intellitics blogs about the central role small group discussions can play in anchoring a community process.

Digital Urban continues their ruminations on the use of QRCodes in the context of museum exhibits. We find the technology and the applications pretty interesting from a broader public engagement perspective as well.

Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space grapples with the challenges of web-based engagement around redistricting.

Orton Family Foundation blogs about a story-gathering, asset mapping, and visioning effort undertaken by high school students for their Biddeford, Maine downtown.

Augmented Reality posted about two interesting innovations. The first, including a video, described an application involving driving a radio-controlled car around a track, with cameras for a real-time cockpit view and “augmented reality scenarios overlaying animations onto the live-video image which were triggered either with a light barrier or optically.” Very cool. The second shows the use of an augmented reality app to create a racetrack for a video game by mapping Red Bull cans laid out on the floor. Both illustrate ways in which augmented reality technologies can be used, and for us it’s always with an eye toward planning and community decision-making.

Common Sense California writes posts on the Marine Corps’ version of a town hall meeting at Camp Hansen.

Engaging Cities writes about the QR Code trend and offers some best practices tips for folks who may want to experiment. QR codes clearly offer process designers a tool for sparking certain types of engagement, and will be increasingly useful as camera phones continue their market saturation.

Engaging Cities also reflects a little on the use of film and community storytelling in urban planning.

My PlaceMatters colleagues have been busy with other posts as well, including Jocelyn’s on IBM’s City Forward online tool (about which Fast Company wrote recently as well), Jason’s interview with ESRI’s Matt Baker about geodesign and sketch-based feedback in ArcGIS, Ken’s thoughts on integrating DIY touchtables with GIS, and my post about the iPad 2 Best Buy vs. Mac Store face-off.

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Weekly Blog Roundup: February 22, 2011

Nina Simon, the Museum 2.0 blogger and author of Participatory Museum, posted a video of her “From Place to Presence” talk at the Nodem 2010 conference. Although she is focused on museum design, her comments might as well have been about designing for effective participation in any community venue. Her three key observations: a) scaffolding and constraints are critical to effective participation and engagement, b) the design of the prompts matters a great as well, and c) responsiveness to participants is even more important than the design of the process or the prompts.

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation offer a nice roundup of participatory budgeting tools and resources.

Next American City interviews PennPraxis director Harris Steinberg about the role of community participation in Philadelphia’s riverfront development plan. He touches on the importance of understanding the politics in order to move the ball forward on the planning process and produce a plan that was likely to be implemented.

Full Circle Associates describes a cool post-it note-based coalition-mapping process to better understand their existing social networks and how those networks can either be weakened or strengthened. We’ve used and seen this type of approach in other community decision-making contexts, but the explicit network-weaving lens is a helpful twist.

Our friends at Strongtowns write about crowdsourcing sidewalk design.

GigaOm reports on Zynga’s massive (closing in on $10 billion) valuation. What is Zynga and why do we care? They’ve managed to attract a reported 45 million users to their various social games, including the breakout Farmville. Social gaming and gamification are here to stay, at least for now, and the trend seems to offer a lot of promise to the civic participation and community decision-making universe. By embedding game dynamics in an interactive process, process architects can improve the likelihood of engaging community members and keeping them engaged. Do a good job of designing the game dynamics, and you might also find ways to generate high-quality input from those very same community members. As if the press the point, TechCrunch just reported that Foursquare – the icon of geolocation-based social gaming – is on the verge of hitting the seven-million users mark. Yes, that’s seven million registered users. They saw 3,400 percent last year in check-ins. Some clever community engagement folks will figure out how to use Foursquare directly in their work (including Foursquare’s new-ish photo uploading feature), while others will create engagement strategies that riff on the basic Foursquare setup. One way or another, games – geolocation and otherwise – offer a lot of potential.

This Thursday at 2 pm mountain time I’ll be joining Jon Verville of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center on the Community Matters Open Government call. Jon and I will talk about two different versions of the same basic challenge: how human nature, inertia, and caution all figure into the challenges of persuading governments to become more open.

New Geography challenges Andres Duany’s recent argument that public participation impedes great projects.

I posted yesterday on the PlaceMatters blog about the future of community participation. And check out the PlaceMatters web site’s new look.