PlaceMatters logo PlaceMatters text logo

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


How to Launch a Project: Imagine Central AR’s Participatory, Celebratory Kickoff

Imagine Central Arkansas Kickoff

Imagine Central Arkansas Kickoff

PlaceMatters has had a bit of a blogging dry spell, but we have a good excuse! In the last month staff members have been to:

We’ve been working hard, listening to our partners challenges and successes, and supporting some great events. More info on some of these trips will be forthcoming on our blog.  I will start things off with some highlights from our first trip, where we helped implement Metroplan‘s (Central AR’s MPO) Imagine Central Arkansas kickoff event.

The kickoff was held in a pavilion at the River Market in Little Rock. Over 200 people enjoyed the local band, popcorn machine, and fantastic fall weather.  They also were able to provide initial input via several interactive stations:

  • An “I Imagine Central Arkansas” station where people could fill in a white-board with their vision for the future of the region and have photos taken with their boards (Metroplan has collected quite a few of these, check them out here).
  • A station for kids where they could draw their favorite places (some in great detail!) and/or build their vision for the future with Lego blocks and paper streets (I got to work at this station and enjoyed every conversation I had with all the young people who came through–not surprisingly, the pool is a popular place, but they also loved the Big Dam Bridge and other regional destinations).
  • Treasured Places Station had a (PlaceMatters’ DIY) touch-table that showed a map where people could place virtual “pins” highlighting places in the region they particularly value and “like” places that others have identified (this map and the Know Your Region quiz was set up by our friend Chris Haller at Urban Interactive Studio, who has done the project website)
  • A “Your Story” Station where we video-taped short statements about what people love about Central Arkansas
  • Know Your Region, a quiz for people to see how much they know about Central Arkansas.
  • A Participation Station where people could learn about how to participate in the process and scan QR codes using their smartphones to see more info on the project website.

PlaceMatters also set up live streaming for anyone who wanted to join the fun, but couldn’t come in person. We also had students from each class at the nearby eStem Charter School join us, and we loved seeing them interact with the technology and provide their ideas.

The following week, Brad Barnett, our Planning Analyst, was back in the region, helping use the touch-tables again for a round of “Hometown Visits” around the region. Along with Metroplan and Gresham, Smith & Partners, Brad helped provide opportunities for participation (similar to the kickoff) in places around the region, part of an ongoing strategy to reach people where they are in their day-to-day lives.

We feel that the model for the kickoff and round of local meetings was a good one, particularly with the level of interaction that both provided. We almost never want people to spend their valuable time at a meeting where they aren’t providing feedback and input. We’ll be pointing our partners and communities interested in a great model kickoff event to the Central Arkansas example. The hometown visits were also a good idea, and could be very successful in similar projects if the right locations are chosen where there is a lot of foot traffic.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for additional posts about our current project work and our thoughts about what is working well and lessons learned.



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?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: February 29, 2012

Kids and adults alike have at it in the Lego "free play" building area at the National Building Museum.

Kids and adults alike have at it in the Lego "free play" building area at the National Building Museum.

BMW Guggenheim Lab blog reflects on some Lego-based experiments in exploring urban form at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Planetizen has a guest post by Rob Goodspeed on the implications of big data for urban and community-planning (a subject we’ll be focusing on during our panels at the American Planning Association conference in April).

Ethan Zuckerman explores the use of (and challenges of using) video in a civic participation context.

EngagingCities (in a guest post by Rebecca Sanborn Stone) describes three very cool art-based civic participation projects designed to inform community planning efforts.

Engaging Cities also describes Crowdmap, a platform for gathering crowdsourced information and viewing the data on a map and with a timeline.

Bang the Table reports on a new study on the impact of e-participation efforts, focusing on projects in Seoul, South Korea (h/t to Gov 2.0 Watch).

Intellitics describes the Knight Foundation’s new Engagement Commons initiative.

Open Source Planning reflects on scenario planning.

Spatially Adjusted lusts after the new Ideum MT65 3D display … a 65″ 3D touch screen monitor introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show last month. It’s expected to sell for $18,000 when it’s released this spring. We aren’t likely to buy one anytime soon, but we share the sentiment.

The mobile industry association GSMA and the software company mCRUMBS are launching an augmented reality app for the Mobile World Congress, which offers another example of how augmented reality technology can provide rich, location-based content in a way that might be useful for community planning and decision-making.

On the PlaceMatters blog you’ll find posts on “The Tension Between Participatory Art and Participatory Decision-Making,” engaging community members around vacant property issues, and big data (and the use of Twitter and other geotagged data to understand human behavior in cities).

What did we miss?

PlaceMatters Blog Roundup: April 26, 2011

Photo by Engaging Cities.

Engaging Cities had two great posts. One was by guest blogger Claudia Paraschiv on “El Carrito,” a mobile community participation cart used in Barcelona, Spain. The idea is clever enough on its own, but the cart then itself contains the tools for some great public engagement techniques, like the “Neighborhood Detective” game for kids.

And Jennifer-Evans Cowley has a great pecha kucha presentation on the diverse and impressive apps that communities are developing around the country.

Jennifer also was a guest blogger on the Cubit Planning blog Plannovation about the use of social media in planning, and she dives into the data on how APA 2011 participants actually used Twitter during the conference, including the impressive buzzwordification (my word) of phrases like skyboxification (Michael Sandel’s word), blight porn, and gray tsunami.

Another Cubit Planning guest blogger, Chris Haller, wrote about bridging the online/offline divide in public involvement during planning processes.

The Dirt explores visualizing brownfield and Superfund data in ways that help community members understand the challenges and explore options. Engagement is half the challenge, but once you’ve got folks plugged in you still have to provide tools for making sense of the issues, the alternatives, and the trade-offs.

Noah Raford describes an online scenario planning process using SenseMaker Suite to create the scenarios and auto-aggregation tools to analyze the narratives submitted by participants. It’s more of proof-of-concept than a fully fleshed-out approach, but seems to have some promise.

Intellitics describes the idea of “microparticipation” in online community engagement.

National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation describes a demo of a software tool called EngagEnterprise, designed to aid in stakeholder management. It’s not a project management tool, they explain, but one that helps keep track of who all the stakeholders are and their relationships between each other and the project. It’s a “self-serve information dispensary and an online bulletin board.”

National Charrette Institute writes about the Better Block project, “a demonstration tool that acts as a living charrette,” enabling communities to work on, provide feedback to, and iterate complete streets project in real-time.

The PlaceMatters blog features an interview with Rob Matthews of the Decision Commons and a very cool video on the future of glass and displays.

What did we miss?

Just One Word: Glass

It’s in the top 100 list of repeated lines from movies more than a couple decades old. In The Graduate (1967), Mr. McGuire pulls Dustin Hoffman (as Ben) aside: “I’m going to say one word to you, just one word… Are you listening?… Plastics… There is a great future in plastics.”

On the one year anniversary of the BP oil spill and with studies and books on plastics like Susan Freinkel’s Plastic: A Toxic Love Story getting heightened attention, the future of plastics (and their polymer granddaddy) is not looking so great.

Enter glass, while the process of making scratch and impact resistant glass is an energy intensive process, the chemicals used to make glass tend to be more environmentally benign (in contrast, Freinkel adds IV bags to the list of concerns about vinyl plastics with reports of DEHP getting into our blood stream and interfering with testosterone).

Now we’re seeing thin layered glass showing up on many of our technology devices (smart phones, iPads, screens, etc.) in parallel with amazing touch technologies. Here are excerpts from a Corning video showing what’s in the not-so-distant future (or you can view the full video here. )

It’s cool to see some of the touch technologies we’re dabbling with becoming polished and perfected. The object-aware technology many of us first started seeing with the Microsoft surface provides some neat opportunities with data seamlessly transferred from one device to the other. The woman at the bus stop was a good example.

We would love to work with Corning and others on a “sustainable future” version for The Future We Want exhibit we have been incubating with others, utilizing some of these new technologies for tackling some of our tougher energy, water, and waste problems.

It is amazing to think most of this technology is either available or right around the corner.

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 Weekly Blog Roundup: January 19, 2010

Next American City outlines their notion of ‘Planning 2.0.’ The ESRI-sponsored post makes the case for the importance of GIS mapping technologies in Planning 2.0 approaches (naturally), but it also does a nice job of laying out a definition based on informing, engaging, and empowering stakeholders. The “2.0” metaphor is pretty tired (and has been for a while), and I’d too think there is a richer way to describe these shifts. On the other hand, planning as a profession isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of emerging technologies, so maybe the 2.0 language works well enough. More important than the moniker, though, is the recognition that the fundamental change, the “decisive paradigm shift,” is of planners planning for people to planners plan with people.

A Planner’s Guide explores hacking the Wii and Kinect for public meetings and public kiosks. This is an idea that we are particularly enthused about, and we’ve been using low-cost DIY touchtables and related technology in public meetings for a couple of years now. No doubt the universe of Wii hacks will keeping growing, and the Xbox Kinect may offer yet another pile of helpful options for community decision processes. The Kinect is still pretty finicky as a technology, and it may take another iteration or two before it’s stable and mature enough to be really useful to planners and community participation types, but the fun innovations are already popping up. And Digital Urban today blogged about a 3D room-scanning and model construction hack for the Kinect. Way cool.

The Goodspeed Update asks about using GIS tools to foster innovation.

Community Matters evokes the Village People in making the case for the value of broad local partnerships in community decision-making.

The National Charrette Institute blog offers its thoughts on when a charrette is the right type of process for the job. NCI happens to be here in Denver right now working on a five-day charrette process, a project on which some of the PlaceMatters team is also involved.

PlaceMatters’ correspondent (and PlaceMatters Lab Director) Jason Lally catches up with Jack Dangermond at the Geodesign Summit in Redlands last week. Jason also offers his reflections on the summit, and we posted our own interview with Jason on place-based gaming and urban planning.

Common Sense California writes about “Civic Engagement – Musical Style.” They also report on research suggesting that people who participated in sports while they were young are more likely than non-sports participants to participate in civic engagement activities.

Sustaining Places reports on the two recipients of this year’s American Planning Association 2011 National Planning Excellence Awards for Innovation in Sustaining Places. Yes, that’s a mouthful. The “North Shore Plan: Pa’ala’a to Kapaeloa” effort in Honolulu was one recipient, and the “North Texas 2050: For a Future that is Better than ‘Business as Usual'” was the other. The North Texas 2050 plan was specifically called out for its collaborative process.

The PlaceMatters blog also posted on our new language translation tool for public meetings.

What Are You Excited About for 2011?

Photo by flickr user tsuacctnt (Creative Commons license).

I asked folks in the office here at PlaceMatters what treasures they think 2011 might hold in store for community engagement, civic participation, and decision support. Here’s what they said:

Ken Snyder:

I’m excited about the new iPad rumored to include cameras like the iPhone4.  This will make it possible to view spatial data with augmented reality apps.  Imagine pointing your iPad at a city streetscape.  On the iPad screen data pops up about the place and planned projects. Walkscores for the area, bus frequency and realtime data on the location of the next bus on its way.

I’m excited about integrating interactive touchtables into charrettes and public meetings, helping participants make more inspired, informed, and collaborative decisions.

I’m excited about emerging online dashboards that will enable communities to monitor sustainable indicators in their community and experiment with alternative futures.

I’m excited about the our Decision Lab, creating a platform for tool developers, programers, and practitioners to collaborate in the development of new tools and techniques to improve planning.

Jason Lally:

Mobile applications are reaching a point of maturity and acceptance where using them in planning and civic engagement this year will become easier and more exciting.  While there are and still will be generational gaps in technology usage, the utility of using mobile platforms to engage a portion of our audience has increased.  Foursquare now allows photos and comments attached to checkins, QR codes enable us to attach digital information to physical objects (check out 5 unique uses of QR codes), and the new SCVNGR can give your entire city (or small business) a place-based mobile gaming platform.  These platforms provide low cost methods for creating reality based games (RBGs) that can be linked to real planning objectives.

Incidentally, Reality Based Game is not something that seems to be crowded intellectually, especially not applied to planning or civic engagement.  The concept of mobile gaming like this is not entirely new but when applied to planning it’s barely born.  I think there may be an opportunity to “own” this concept (not in the IP sense of ownership, but in the intellectual sense).  I will devote a much longer blog to SCVNGR as a platform and this concept of RBGs in general.

A city could reward citizens for finding QR codes attached to real places that provide background information about a plan and the history of the city.  Quiz people on what they learned and provide a nominal prize.  Or link your QR codes to mobile sites that allow citizens to comment and engage with the planning process around particular places and issues.  Even those that don’t participate directly can learn vicariously through media coverage and interactive websites that track participant progress.  Foursquare can be used to engage people similarly to find special tips posted by the planning department.  Attach unique codes to these tips and encourage citizens to enter these in on a mobile website, then reward those that enter the the most by a certain time.  Or use SCVNGR, which is already designed as a mobile reality-based gaming platform.  Simply, SCVNGR offers rewards to users that complete place-based challenges.  Within one application, reward citizens for following a certain path and completing challenges like finding QR codes, entering specific text or entering general comments.

While none of these reality based games will guarantee a better plan, they will hopefully become mechanisms to playfully engage many people in a planning process asynchronously.  In this next year, I would like to engage at least one city in an RBG that is thoughtfully designed and executed to increase the level of participation and if we’re lucky, maybe they’ll even learn something in the process.

Jocelyn Hittle:

2011 will see the ramp-up of sustainability work across the US as the 45 regions and communities that received HUD Sustainable Communities Grants will be implementing their proposals.   PlaceMatters is a partner on the New River Valley Region project, which received $1 million for sustainability planning, and I am excited to get started.  Not only do these grants mean that planning work will be focusing on issues we’ve long championed, like understanding the implications of land use patterns on things like greenhouse gas emissions, but also that there will be an increasingly large amount of information on best practices for involving citizens and improving decision-making around sustainability in general.

PlaceMatters has been working to improve sustainability decision-making since its inception in 2002. We have worked on creating ways for communities to easily track progress toward sustainability goals, and these grants, with their focus on implementation, will doubtlessly demonstrate a variety of methods for measuring success–including some methods we’ve used, and some new options for us to consider.  In addition, the grants focus on public participation and capacity building, which PlaceMatters considers indispensable for successful planning processes.

While we track the latest developments in all these areas, and continually push ourselves to be creative and advance the state of the art, the influx of new thinking and resources will doubtlessly spur some creative solutions we haven’t yet tried. The opportunities for us all to learn from the work that will be undertaken this year, and in the years to come, around sustainable planning is very exciting!

PlaceMatters Weekly Blog Roundup: December 21, 2010

National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation posts about an effort to create a “culture of dialogue.”

NCDD also explores an idea they call “deliberative hospitality,” which is basically a fancy – but useful – way of saying “be nice to people who show up to the public engagement meeting.”

Community PlanIT blog gives an update on their Engagement Game Lab project and on two Community PlanIT game projects in Philadelphia and Akron.

Public Decisions posted about PlaceMatters’ video on DiamondTouch, a very cool multi-person touchtable engagement tool. Thanks for the link, Public Decisions!

e-Participation and Online Deliberation reflects on the role of deliberation in e-participation.

America Speaks writes about the White House’s public input experiment, using a wiki for soliciting public feedback on a Request for Information, and makes suggestions for improving the experiment next time around.

They blogged about the project itself, as well – designing a new platform for online input – a few days earlier.

Orton Family Foundation posted about the block party community engagement efforts in Golden, Colorado (where I happen to be mayor). Their site seems to be down now but hopefully will come back up soon.