The Textizen Blog

DEC 10 2014

Happy 30th Birthday, SMS: Why Text Messaging is Ready for Community Engagement

Construction workers texting in a park

Construction workers texting during a break. Via [Duncan] under CC BY 2.0.

Text messaging has been around for a long time – the concept dates back to 1984, and the first text was sent in 1992. Texting use is now at an all-time high in the United States, across all ages and income levels. Even with smartphone ownership rising, texting remains dominant.

Businesses have taken notice, using text messaging for everything from flight status updates to real estate. These companies take advantage of texting’s longevity and ubiquity to reach people across all age groups and demographics.

Meanwhile, citizens feel increasingly disconnected from their government, while civic institutions and nonprofits struggle to reach the people they serve.

How can we be both so connected, yet disconnected at the same time? It’s time for those in community engagement to learn what marketers figured out years ago: text messaging is a widespread technology with unprecedented reach.

More >>

NOV 20 2014

Clean Air Council Partners with Textizen to Reduce Harmful Idling

Clean Air text reporting in action

Field reporters sending idling reports via text.

From its beginning in 1967 as a two-person effort with a shoestring budget to its present-day status as a regional powerhouse, Philadelphia headquartered Clean Air Council has shown that hard work and efficient operation can be just as powerful as vast resources. Now, the Council is offering a prime example of how a lightweight and widely-used technology can be employed in a novel way to address local pollution and create change.

One key effort for Clean Air Council is fighting excessive vehicle idling, a common preventable cause of air pollution. The Council is no stranger to boots-on-the-ground activism: in early 2013, members David Lukens and Logan Welde earned a reputation for confronting idling drivers by knocking on windows and citing the city’s anti-idling laws.

By 2014, Lukens and Welde had decided to take the Council’s anti-idling efforts to the next level. Lukens forged a partnership between Clean Air Council and Textizen, and the two persuaded multiple Philadelphia agencies to test out a unique anti-idling initiative.

“Before Textizen, it was not easy to report idling vehicles in Philadelphia, nor was it possible to get those reports to the people that could help reduce idling. Now, reporting idling to our participating agencies is as easy as sending a text.

-Logan Welde
Staff Attorney, Clean Air Council

How does it work? Trained volunteers who spot idling vehicles send in reports via text message, using a simple protocol to submit information in a matter of seconds. These reports are automatically forwarded to agency officials who have the power to shut down idlers in real time and enact internal policy changes.

Already, the new text message reporting system has helped Clean Air Council and its partner agencies collaborate on stronger anti-idling policies, improve enforcement, and reduce harmful pollution.

More >>

NOV 13 2014

5 Tips for Creating an Effective Outreach Poster

Outreach tips header

For many would-be participants, your poster, flyer, or pamphlet will be their first point of contact with your project. As a result, great visual design can make the difference between a trickle of responses and a flood of press and public participation.

Hiring a pro is the most reliable way to get results, but here are 5 tips for creating compelling outreach materials on your own:

  1. Start with the basics: Good color and font choice is the foundation of an effective design. This tutorial offers an excellent overview with some key takeaways: select a fitting color scheme with 2-4 hues, with the brightest or most contrasting color set aside for special emphasis. Choose one primary font for the text, making sure it is clear and legible.
  2. Give your main prompt center stage: Your primary message should be big and bold, so that the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to the text. As you design the poster, be sure to consider the maximum viewing distance to ensure legibility.
  3. Avoid unnecessary text: Your may feel inclined to explain the full context, but the more you write, the less likely it is that people will get the main idea (e.g., texting in a response, attending a meeting, joining your research study). Stick to the essentials.
  4. Establish trust: Use agency branding to indicate who you are, and briefly explain why you want their participation. Official branding will also make it clear that involvement will lead to real action.
  5. Consider a human face to draw attention: Cognitive psychologists have demonstrated that pictures of human faces are very effective at capturing people’s attention.1 2 Viewers will also follow the gaze of people in the image, so you can use this to draw attention to your message (arrows have a similar effect).3

While posters are a popular way to get messages to the public, these tips are applicable to any materials: mailers, postcards, flyers, live presentations, and anything else with a strong visual component.

Below, we’ll break down outreach materials from two recent Textizen campaigns and discuss what makes them so effective.

More >>

OCT 30 2014

Visualize your Data in Minutes with Textizen and Esri Maps

We are excited to announce that Textizen is now an official Esri Business Partner! You may know Esri as the industry-leading provider of Geographic Information System software, which makes it easy to collect and analyze geographic data.

What does this partnership mean for you? As we build out our geographic capabilities, Esri’s best-in-class platforms are powering Textizen behind the scenes. This means you will soon be able to collect geographic data from your participants and visualize those responses on a map as they arrive.

In the meantime, however, geocoding Textizen data using Esri is an easy way to gain insight into your results. In just a few minutes you can create an intuitive visual representation of your data to share with your team, your clients, or the public!

legend

The power of Esri: survey responses grouped by ZIP code, color coded by score, and scaled based on response volume.

Here’s a map we made using data from Buffalo Niagara’s One Region Forward initiative. In one of their polls, Buffalo asked residents how easy it is to access healthy, affordable food. (Poll results here.)

Read on to see an interactive version and learn how to make your own geocoded maps!

More >>

OCT 20 2014

Fort Collins's Transfort Gathers Public Input via Text Message

Fort Collins image

Image via Transfort

Located along the Cache La Poudre River and bordering the Rocky Mountain foothills, Fort Collins, Colorado boasts beautiful sights and surroundings, and is a hotspot for bicyclists. The League of American Bicyclists even named it a Platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Community — one of four in the United States. Yet Fort Collins struggled with the same tension as many cities: how to provide public transit access that worked for both bikes and pedestrians?

After the launch of their rapid bus service MAX this past year, Transfort decided to start a public conversation to learn more about their ridership’s views on bikes and transit, spread awareness of how Transfort accommodates bikes, and identify new ideas for dealing with bikes in the transit system. They set up an online discussion board and scheduled a public meeting, but knew that these would not reach most riders.

The ideal survey would be completable onboard a short bus ride, yet allow for targeted follow-ups with people who wanted to participate further. With many riders already passing the travel time on their phones, text messaging was an ideal solution. Transfort partnered with Textizen and launched a cascading outreach campaign.

More >>

OCT 09 2014

"Give Kids Sight Day" Tracks Outcomes with Textizen

Sight Day happy child

Image via Eagles Youth Partnership

Each year, the nonprofit Philadelphia Eagles Youth Partnership holds a “Give Kids Sight Day” event, providing free eye exams and glasses to more than 1,000 children in need. The event provides services regardless of insurance or citizenship, and has been a boon to thousands of kids in Philadelphia who are uninsured or whose parents can’t afford to replace lost or broken glasses.

The community’s reaction to Give Kids Sight Day has been overwhelming each time, but the event organizers had no way to truly measure the impact of their efforts. Since the glasses are mailed to schools for distribution, there was no way to confirm that children received them, or to gather data on the effect they had on kids’ lives.

This past summer, Give Kids Sight Day organizers realized they could solve this problem using accessible technology. They needed a way to reach out to families across all income levels, without requiring smartphones or home Internet access. Textizen’s ability to reach almost everyone (90% of U.S. adults have texting capabilities) made it a clear fit for the project, so we got to work measuring outcomes.

More >>

OCT 06 2014

Philly Bike Share Crowdsources Station Locations with Textizen

Bike Share art with bicycle

Image via temple_sea on Instagram

How do you ask for local input on bike sharing infrastructure that doesn’t exist yet, and generate excitement and anticipation for the arrival of this new mode of travel? Call Textizen, give us a week to get organized, and open your doors to hundreds of comments from soon-to-be riders.

With the help of our friends at OpenPlans, a local mural artist, and an energetic street team, Philly Bike Share and Textizen launched a mobile engagement and smart map outreach scheme that demonstrates what is possible with 21st century outreach technology.

“We’re the first bike-share system in the country to take this approach to public outreach,” said Andrew Stober, Chief of Staff at the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities. “We really wanted to do this in a way that would be much more active in engaging the public.”

More >>

APR 03 2014

Textizen in the Granicus AppStore

Often the trickiest part of launching new software tools in Government is the purchasing process itself. We’re excited to announce that thanks to a partnership with cloud services provider Granicus, it’s now easier than ever for more than 1,000 government agencies to get Textizen up and running.

Granicus AppStore

To date, the Granicus platform serves more than 63,000 government staff users and 8 million citizens per year, making our platform the perfect place to centralize cloud identity management for participating agencies. With all trends pointing to a digital strategy being a must-have plan for every government agency, we believe that our AppStore can and will serve as a key component in the digital government roadmaps of forward-thinking government agencies across the country.

-Javier Muniz, CTO, Granicus

Read more about the launch here

JAN 16 2014

¡Hablamos Español!

Need help reaching Spanish-speaking populations?

We are happy to announce support for Spanish language surveys, making it easier than ever for you to reach people where they are.

Sample Poll Prompt

Try out this sample poll designed to collect feedback for economic development (carrier charges may apply). Imagine you’re walking down a city street and see this sign (above) in an empty storefront.

Sample Spanish Poll

Have an idea for another language we should support? Text it to (208) 714-0203, or send us an email.

If you are currently a Textizen user, you can create Spanish-language polls today through the same easy-to-use interface you’re used to. Beginning in February, we will support you in planning and implementing Spanish language surveys.

To create a new poll in Spanish, from the Polls page click New Poll. Fill out your questions, then use the language drop-down in the Settings section to select Spanish. That’s it!

Textizen poll settings

If you are a new client, get in touch and let us help you reach people wherever they are, whatever their native language.

JAN 09 2014

Happy 2014 & Welcome Todd Baylson

Happy New Year from Philadelphia and San Francisco! 2013 was an incredible year for Textizen and we’re looking forward to an exciting 2014.

Todd Baylson Joins Textizen

We are thrilled to welcome Todd Baylson as Textizen’s Sales and Business Development Lead.

Photo credit: PlanPhilly

Immediately prior to joining Textizen, Todd was Policy Director for Philadelphia Councilman-at-Large Bill Green. His love of green space, civic engagement, and technology and innovation in the civic space was cultivated through a number of years working for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He also guides kayak trips on Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River.

Please get in touch and say hello via Twitter (@toddbaylson) or email (toddb@textizen.com)!

Textizen on the Road

We had the pleasure of meeting many of you in person in 2013. Whether at the American Planning Association, National League of Cities, or Code for America Summit, or during breakout sessions at Planning Camp SF, we had a great time hearing your stories and discussing the future of public engagement. This winter, we hope to cross paths at these events and more:

  • Transportation Camp DC • Washington, DC · Jan 11 Panel: “Public Participation is Broken… Can Technology Help?”
  • NJ Planning Conference · New Brunswick, NJ · Jan 14 Panel: “Engagement 2.0”
  • New Partners for Smart Growth · Denver, CO · Feb 13-15 Panel: “Tools that Empower: Leveraging Emerging Technologies to Dramatically Increase Public Participation”

Will you be there too? Join us at these sessions, or drop us a line.

OCT 31 2013

Thanks for the Good Times

I jumped into my civic engagement internship with Textizen nearly four months ago. Although I didn’t know exactly what to expect, I came into the position seeking an innovative, fast-paced, and public-serving environment. Textizen provided on all counts as a startup in the Code for America building.

Textizen is located in the SoMa part of San Francisco amidst a myriad of tech giants and startups. You can find an army of coders and entrepreneurs here often exchanging ideas over a cup of coffee or the next culinary delight. Many of them also came to the CfA building for meetups, hack nights, and other similar events.

Textizen boasts a similar culture characterized by straightforward feedback and latitudinal interaction. As a result, top-down hierarchy is virtually nonexistent. Instead, there’s a strong emphasis on interdependent collaboration.

I was thrown into the deep end from the beginning with coding languages, software, and computer terms no one outside of tech could possibly know. I learned to identify and keep only the bare essentials during those first weeks since time and a growing list of tasks simply wouldn’t allow for more. Luckily, as a matter of habit, everything you really need sticks.

By the end, Alex, Michelle, and Serena brought me in on a variety of projects to design surveys, perform statistical analysis, write blog posts, provide feedback on client calls, conduct market research, and assist on a bucket load of other tasks.

Working with Textizen opened my eyes to the growing industry connecting civic engagement with technology. I’m excited to see how this sector evolves and imagine great things in the future for Textizen. Many thanks to everyone at Textizen for the good times!

OCT 29 2013

Text, Talk, and Act for Mental Health: A Pilot for Scaling Microcommunities, One Text at a Time

Photo: Some of the student participants

Last week, Kelley Marchant’s students at Rex Putnam High School in Milwaukie, Oregon, kept checking their phones.

After all, that was their class assignment. In groups of 4-5 students, they shared stories and viewpoints of how mental illness affected them, their friends, and their families, and what they could do to bring mental illness out of the shadows. Periodically, a text message arrived, bearing the next discussion topic.

This was a pilot jointly developed by Textizen and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, as part of an effort to scale the Center’s previously successful work in enabling face-to-face discussions about mental health. In the past, the Center shared discussion guides and trained facilitators with schools across the country.

Textizen and DDC’s Matt Leighninger worked together to adapt the previous discussion format to the text-message medium, while keeping it open, welcoming, and educational. Facts such as “1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in any given year” and “Half of all adult mental health problems begin at age 14” introduce the topic and helped participants understand its breadth. Then, discussion prompts explore why it’s difficult to talk about mental health; how this issue affects students, friends, and family, and what steps we might take to help address mental illness.

At the end, more than 75% of students made action commitments, ranging from organizing a bigger discussion to helping a friend who’d previously been denied medical attention.

Facilitating these dialogues by text lowers the burden on organizers, allowing the program to truly scale. With the Text, Talk, + Act pilot, not only is Textizen connecting individuals with organizations, it’s also a chance to build face-to-face microcommunities, one text at a time.

OCT 15 2013

Activate, Engage, and Sustain: Announcing Textizen Campaigns

Over 25,000 texts across 40 cities later, Textizen is a proven, powerful way to activate and engage communities. We’re excited to introduce a way to sustain those conversations, with Textizen Campaigns.

Launching Fall 2013, Textizen Campaigns are a revolutionary way to turn lightweight action into long-term engagement. Once you’ve built an initial audience, it’s easy to stay connected through our automated text platform. Share project updates, collect additional input, or segment audiences based on past responses — it’s up to you.

Textizen Campaigns

Other new features:

  • Textizen en Español: Support for surveys in spanish
  • Multiple phone numbers per survey: segment results across response channels
  • And more!

Learn more, and sign up for early access now.

OCT 14 2013

Textizen at the Code for America Summit

Code for America Summit

Are you, or anyone else from your city, attending the Code for America Summit this week in San Francisco? If so, come meet the Textizen team. We’d love to show you some spiffy new features and talk about bringing civic engagement to people, wherever they are. Can’t make it to SF? We’ll be posting here again tomorrow, so check back!

More >>

OCT 10 2013

"Does this look like a good idea?" Hyperlocal Input in Tampa, FL

The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has long debated a number of roadway systems to decrease traffic congestion along the 1¼-mile stretch of Gandy Blvd. in Tampa, Florida. One of these proposals, an elevated tollway called the Gandy Connector, aims to reduce traffic congestion and provide evacuation routes between Dale Mabry Highway and the Gandy Bridge.

The Planning Commission chose Textizen to reach out to residents, neighborhood organizations, and the business community within a 1-mile radius of Gandy Blvd. The focus on hyperlocal input was a divergence from tradition and we were excited be a part of something new.

More >>

SEP 24 2013

3 Best Practices for Text-Based Civic Engagement

After delivering over 20,000 responses for communities across the country, we’ve learned a lot about what makes for successful civic outreach by text message.

These lessons are all included in our Best Practices guide (free for Textizen subscribers), which guides you through the process of launching a successful outreach campaign. Read on for 3 tips to supercharge your civic engagement.


1. Start Backwards: Define Your Goal

When kicking off a campaign, start with the ultimate goal and work backwards.

Are you focused on gauging the impact of near-term local development projects, or long-term master plan adoption? Preparing for school budget cuts, or trying to raise participation in programs? Or are you most interested in collecting demographics to better understand a particular audience?

What types of data, information, or engagement would be most useful for influencing decision-makers?

Examples: ranking of service preferences, support or opposition for a proposal, broad generation of ideas, contact information to bring people to in-person events.

Once your goals are clear, and you’ve identified the types of data you’ll need, all that’s left is getting people hooked and asking a few followup questions.

More >>

JUL 30 2013

Citizens Guide Chicago Public School Improvements

We helped Chicago Public Schools (CPS) plan facility and service improvements with two city-wide surveys from March through April. Our surveys’ attention-grabbing posters appeared in local trains and buses thanks to a partnership with the Chicago Transit Authority. Over 2,000 people participated in the surveys and, even though they’re officially over, eager citizens still send input our way.

More >>

JUL 29 2013

Welcome to the Textizen Blog!

Textizen is a platform for civic engagement. We use SMS surveys to democratize outreach and engagement, allowing decision-makers and community organizers to reach and hear from everyone they serve. We’ve run dozens of surveys in communities across the country, and have more in the works.

Besides building a web platform that is seamless, elegant, and easy to use, we’re also working hard to understand how to craft and launch successful outreach campaigns. This blog is for us to share what we learn along the way, including case studies of past campaigns, best practices in crafting survey-based outreach, and interesting pieces of data analysis.

Stay tuned for more exciting things from Textizen!