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“Using Tools and Data to Inform Equity-Oriented Decision-Making” webinar on October 15

Join PlaceMatters for a webinar on Using Tools and Data to Inform Equity-Oriented Decision-Making.

Date: October 15, 2014

Time: 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm EDT


Join us to learn about three strategies for thinking about and improving equity in our regions. University of Maryland will demo OppMap, a web-based tool for community-driven opportunity mapping in the Baltimore region. Jason Reece of the Kirwan Institute will show how historical analysis brought clarity to equity discussions in Cleveland. Holly St. Clair of MAPC will share lessons learned about how tapping into empathy can help cultivate an open environment for discussing equity.

Questions? Contact Critter Thompson at PlaceMatters.

This webinar session is provided through the Sustainable Communities Learning Network. The primary audience is members of the network, but anyone who is interested may participate.


NEW DATE: Engagement Tech for All Webinar now on June 26

Join PlaceMatters for a webinar on Engagement Tech for All.

Date: June 26, 2014

Time: 1:30 pm – 3 pm MDT


“Civic Technologies” are gaining increasing interest as a way to engage hard-to-reach populations in community planning and decision-making. Low income people, as well as people of color, immigrants, people with limited English proficiency, and youth are often un- or underrepresented in these processes.  Reasons for this lack of engagement include limited city budgets and staff capacity, absence of awareness of opportunities to engage, limited language skills and reading comprehension, and previous negative experiences resulting in mistrust or hostility towards government.  While not a panacea, civic technologies can enhance the toolkit available to planners and decision-makers who want to broaden public engagement. PlaceMatters recently released a report, funded by the Ford Foundation, on best practices in the use of civic technologies to reach underrepresented populations. The webinar will feature findings from the report, as well as case studies from communities that have effectively leveraged the widespread use of mobile phones, social media, and other technologies to engage a broad audience.  Join this webinar to learn more about the latest innovations in the field of civic technology, and the potential for these technologies to advance transformational change in communities, particularly around the lives of low-income people.


* Jill Locantore, Program Director, PlaceMatters
* Frank Hebbert, Director, OpenPlans
* Tamir Novotny, Senior Associate, Public Sector Innovation, Living Cities
* Holly St. Clair, Director of Data Services, Metropolitan Area Planning Council

This webinar session is provided through the Sustainable Communities Learning Network. The primary audience is members of the network, but anyone who is interested may participate.

Digital Engagement: Challenges and Strategies for Local Governments

Digital technology is quickly integrating into our lives: recent data from the Pew Research Center show that 91% of American adults own a cell phone, among which 58% are smartphones. If you are still questioning the pervasiveness of digital technology, simply watch a 2-year-old toddler unlocking your smartphone or tablet and making it all the way to her favorite game (or your emails). Civic participation in comprehensive planning is no exception to this trend: an increasing number of municipalities and government agencies are using digital community engagement tools to reach broader audiences, make the process innovative and fun, and complement traditional in-person strategies.

At the forefront of this trend is the City of Salt Lake City, which already implemented a wide range of digital engagement tools, including websites, Open City Hall, blogs, SpeakOutSLC, social media, and Textizen. Like many cities using these types of tools, Salt Lake has faced some challenges. Because so many people can participate online, the amount of input can quickly become overwhelming and difficult to analyze. Further, the City wasn’t sure how to evaluate the effectiveness of the tools it was using, especially compared to other outreach methods. To address these challenges, Salt Lake City asked PlaceMatters to research and make recommendations on the following two questions:

  1. How to synthesize (compile and summarize) the input gathered through digital outreach methods into a format that is useful for local government planners and decision-makers?
  2. How to evaluate the effectiveness of digital outreach methods?

Our research involved three steps: first, we interviewed Salt Lake City’s engagement manager and conducted an online survey of approximately 20 selected City staff. Second, we carried out a thorough literature review of previous research on the topics. Finally, we interviewed academics and practitioners, both inside and outside the US, with expertise in public engagement generally and digital outreach in particular.

Based on this research, PlaceMatters made the following recommendations to the City, which any government agency interested in using digital outreach tools should consider:

  1. Confirm the key objectives the City hopes to achieve through the use of digital outreach tools. For example, we identified three objectives for Salt Lake City: “engage a diverse group of stakeholders,” “increase trust in government,” and “enhance citizen knowledge of policy issues.”
  2. Establish a systematic approach to evaluation with minimum standards to be incorporated into all public engagement efforts, and build these into individual and department work plans. Specific categories and methods of evaluation include ease of use, usage, efficiency, and effectiveness.
  3. Establish a central repository of public input. The idea is to store public input collected through diverse methods and across different projects in a centralized location, using a tool that is easy to use and search through.
  4. Dedicate staff and resources for public engagement.
  5. Share practices and evaluation results internally and externally. Building a culture of community engagement and evaluation both within the community and nationwide will lead to continuous improvement in engagement tools and techniques.

The full report is available for viewing or download below. Please contact Marine Siohan ( for any additional questions, feedback or comments.

Digital Outreach in Salt Lake City: Evaluating Effectiveness & Synthesizing Input


Interactive Technology Demonstrations at the NPSG Tech Fair

New technologies and tools are constantly being further developed and explored and have garnered attention as ways to engage more stakeholders in community planning and decision-making efforts. To demonstrate some of the great tools available out there, we hosted the second annual Tech Fair, along with EPA and the Open Planning Tools Group, at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference last month.


These tools are about creatively engaging people with interactive planning experiences. We chose to demonstrate them accordingly, as opposed to having tool providers deliver a short presentation while conference-goers passively sit and watch. We wanted to foster more interactive demonstration and dialogue, giving attendees the opportunity to ask questions, meet and collaborate, experiment with technologies, and apply them directly to their own real-life scenarios. The Tech Fair became an open house to enable tool developers to demonstrate their real value in smart planning to conference attendees.

With thirteen different tool providers demonstrating their innovative tools, the Tech Fair was the place to find cutting edge tools for scenario planning, opportunity mapping, crowdsourced planning, and community engagement. PlaceMatters provided our custom-built touchtables for providers to live-demonstrate many of the tools. We were also able to share some of the tools PlaceMatters has been developing, including CrowdGauge, Brainstorm Anywhere, and WALKscope.

Tools being demonstrated included:

IMG_1690 IMG_1693 IMG_1687

IMG_0293 IMG_1696


WALKscope: Crowdsourced Pedestrian Data

It’s easy to look around most American cities and guess (correctly) where most of our transportation infrastructure funding is spent: on auto-oriented projects. As transportation infrastructure became more complex and within the purview of the public sector, planners and engineers developed the data and methodologies we needed to track what infrastructure exists and how it’s being used. This information guides policy decisions about where to invest resources.

However, we rarely have this kind of data for active transportation like biking and walking. This lack of data puts active transportation at a disadvantage when it’s time to allocate resources; after all, how do you argue for more sidewalks or prioritize where to put resources when you can’t demonstrate where the existing gaps and strengths are in the network? Following the “what gets measured gets done” logic, auto-oriented uses are better equipped to demonstrate need because they have data, perpetuating a cycle of auto-focused spending.


WALKscope desktop view

Over the last few months, PlaceMatters has been working with our friends at Walk Denver on a new tool for crowdsourcing data about the existing conditions and usage of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure. The concept behind WALKscope is simple: drop a pin on a map, and then answer a few questions about pedestrian counts, street quality, or intersection quality.

At the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference last month, we were able to test it out in the field with 30 participants in a mobile workshop. Participants were given a quick tour of the tool, some maps showing them where to canvas, and then they were sent out into the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Denver. After about 30 minutes, we’d covered several blocks.

Jefferson Park Data

30 minutes of WALKscope with 6 groups

When participants returned, we pulled up the map and groups were able to report out on the data they’d just collected, including the pictures they took. Cool.


Using WALKscope to report what we found during the data collection.

We then got down to my favorite part, a usability review of the tool. Overall, the comments were really positive. Some of the pluses:

  • responsive design: because it’s designed for use with mobile devices, the interface for collecting data was really easy to use in the field.
  • pictures: incorporating pictures is really helpful for adding detail to what is otherwise a pretty basic survey of the area
  • conversation starter: several folks mentioned that neighborhood residents asked them what they were up to, and a couple of those residents even asked how they could get involved and pitch in.

and the most common requests/issues:

  • more categories: it’s always tricky balancing the desire for precision with the need to generalize categories to make the data manageable. We got some helpful feedback on refining our current ways of categorizing sidewalks and intersections.
  • ped counter interface: one of the best ideas we heard was to add a clicker feature to the ped counter option so people could just tick off a new pedestrian each time they saw one rather than remembering the total and updating it at the end. I love this idea; definitely something we’d like to implement.
  • user access: currently you can sign in via twitter or facebook, but people understandably would love to be able to have persistent sign-in so they could log a bunch of data points and have a user account keep up with it all for them.

So what’s next for WALKscope? If you’re in Denver, it’s up and ready for you to use it! We’ll be doing some data visualizations and other reporting from the work we’re doing with Walk Denver, and we’re talking with other organizations who are interested in using it. If you’d like more info on the tool, let us know!

PS: A huge amount of credit is due to the folks at OpenPlans for developing Shareabouts, the platform on which WALKscope is built.


PlaceMatters at New Partners for Smart Growth Conference

We hope that you got a chance to visit us at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference here in Denver the week of February 14th, but in case you didn’t, here’s a recap of some of the cool things we helped put on. You’ll also be hearing more from us soon regarding several of these topics in more detailed blog posts, so be sure subscribe to our blog or follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on all things PlaceMatters!

 PlaceMatters Pocket Park Tech Fair Public Coffee WALKshop with WALKscope

PlaceMatters hosted a Pocket Park parklet throughout the duration of the conference, which served as a place to relax and meet with other conference-goers. Stay tuned to our blog for more information and pictures on our Pocket Park.

Along with EPA and the Open Planning Tools Group, we also created an open house to bring together tool developers and users to demonstrate their value in smart planning to conference attendees. Stay tuned to our blog for more information and pictures on the Tech Fair.

The Open Planning Tools Group announced the winners of announced the winners of the Open Planning Tools Group Innovation Awards: Forest Planner from EcoTrust and Massachusetts Priority Mapping Protocol from MAPC. You can read more about the winners in this blog post on

We were incredibly excited to be able to get our local friends Public Coffee involved in the conference to help facilitate face-to-face interaction between conference attendees. During two coffee breaks at the conference Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, enthusiastic volunteers handed out “Tandem Cups”–two small cups tied together with string and a pre-printed prompt between–to pairs of conference-goers, encouraging them to simply enjoy a cup of coffee together and share their thoughts on a wide range of topics such as sustainability, smart growth, equity and gentrification issues, innovative technology, or just thoughts and comments about the conference in general.

Together with our friends at WalkDenver, we led an “Urban Walkshop” on Sunday morning exploring the Jefferson Park neighborhood in Denver with WALKscope, a newly developed pedestrian data collection tool by PlaceMatters and WalkDenver. Stay tuned to our blog to hear more about the development and implementation of the WALKscope tool.

We moderated two panel discussions at the conference: “Building Leadership for Water-Wise Growth in the West” and “Lessons from the Vacant School House: Turning Empty Buildings into Assets.” More information and outcomes of the great discussions which took place during these sessions will be blogged about soon, so keep an eye out!

Tech Fair at New Partners for Smart Growth Conference

An Interactive Demonstration of Tools for Smart Planning

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2014 — 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM

Take a stroll through the Technology Fair and try out cutting edge tools for scenario planning and public engagement. You can also talk to leading tool developers and users about how to put these tools to work for you. Tools on exhibit will include:

  • Mapping and alternative analysis tools;
  • Tools for understanding and communicating complexity;
  • Online tools and mobile apps to engage typically underrepresented stakeholders.

PlaceMatters, along with EPA and the Open Source Planning Tools Collaborative, created this open house to bring together leading tool developers and users to demonstrate their value in smart planning to New Partners for Smart Growth attendees.


  • OpenPlans featuring Plan In A Box / Shareabouts
  • Calthorpe Associates featuring UrbanFootprint
  • LocalData featuring LocalData
  • Plan-it Geo featuring Urban Forest Cloud Web Apps
  • PlaceWays featuring CommunityViz
  • MetroQuest featuring MetroQuest
  • ESRI featuring Community Analyst Online
  • Fregonese Associates, Inc. featuring Envision Tomorrow
  • Urban Interactive Studio featuring BrightPages
  • U.S. HUD featuring the Location Affordability Portal
  • U.S. EPA featuring the Smart Location Database
  • Denver Regional COG featuring the Denver Regional Equity Atlas
  • featuring GreaterPlaces

PlaceMatters Touchtable

Cross-Posted on

Visit PlaceMatters at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference

PlaceMatters is excited to sponsor the 13th annual New Partners for Smart Growth Conference taking place here in Denver February 13-16, 2014.  Along with EPA and the Open Source Planning Tools Collaborative, PlaceMatters will be hosting a Tech Fair on Friday, February 14, from 9AM to 3PM, showcasing cutting edge tools for scenario planning and public engagement. We are moderating two panel discussions on “Building Leadership for Water-Wise Growth in the West” (Thursday at 4PM), and “Lessons from the Vacant School House: Turning Empty Buildings into Assets” (Friday at 1:30PM).  Together with our friends at WalkDenver, we are leading an “Urban Walkshop” on Sunday at 8:30AM, that will explore the Jefferson Park neighborhood and demonstrate the new pedestrian data collection tool we are developing to support WalkDenver’s work in neighborhoods throughout Denver.  We hope to see you at the conference!

Civic Hacka-what?


Hack4Colorado will be just one of 100 civic hackathons happening all across the U.S. on the weekend of May 31, all under the umbrella of the National Day of Civic Hacking. A hackathon is an event where computer programmers and others in the field of software development, as well as graphic designers, interface designers and project managers collaborate intensively on software projects. These events are food and caffeine fueled events where innovation happens and new ideas are born.

What does it mean to participate and support a Civic Hackathon? Well, it means different things to different people.

Some people come with visions of venture funding, a great new start up, building a company and becoming the next Techstars company. That’s a great aspiration but that’s not really the primary goal of a “Civic” hackathon. It could happen. You could build an app that really blows up and you form a company and sell this app to every city, state and municipality and retire like Ted Turner. But a Civic hackathon has a different spin. It’s about the community we live in and giving something meaningful back to that community.

There are others who come because they are just sick and tired of not having an app that tells them to move their car because it’s street sweeping day or they are desperate for an app that really addresses the Veterans struggle to overcome PTSD. At our last organizing committee meeting, one of our members was talking about their frustration of not being able to get live bus data to help her catch the next bus without standing around waiting. Can you get your head around that one? Imagine, you open the app on your mobile device or tablet and it tells you that the #6 will be at your stop in 2 minutes- better run!

Why will you come, invest a weekend, hack, collaborate, and compete? For the challenge? The food? The fun? The comraderie? To give back? For the prizes? Hack4Colorado promises to be challenging, super cool and if you’re good, very rewarding!

The organizers come from OpenColoradoPlaceMatters, and Executive Lattice. The sponsors include some great local companies like iTriageSendGridReadyTalkNoodles & Company, Illegal PetesGalvanizeCOIN, and Commerce Kitchen.

Check it out at Registration is open for the event, May 31st – June 2nd, and we’d love to have you! Come on and join the Geeks for the Good of Colorado! Follow @Hack4Co on Twitter for more updates.
If you missed the Hackathon we put on last year, you can read a re-cap of it here.

Re-posted with permission from writer, Ann Spoor. Original post here.


Big Data, Open Data and Planning at #APA13

At APA in Chicago?  If so, join me at 4 PM in Regency C for a panel discussion on Big Data, Open Data and Planning.  We will explore themes around data, technology and urban planning with some of the leading minds in both planning and technology.  This aims to be not just a “how-to” session but also a broader cross-sector conversation where the audience and panelists can learn from each other.  The panel brings together senior technologists and the senior planning counterparts from San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, including:

  • John Tolva, Chief Technology Officer, Chicago
  • Peter Skosey, Executive VP, Metropolitan Planning Council
  • Gina Tomlinson – Chief Technology Officer, City and County of San Francisco
  • Teresa Ojeda – Manager, Information and Analysis Group, SF Planning
  • Gary Jastrzab – Executive Director, Philadelphia City Planning Commission
  • Andrew Nicklin – Director of Research and Development, NYC Dept of Information Technology and Telecommunications

Look forward to seeing you there!