The Textizen Blog

Author: Alex Tilson

MAR 02 2016

Philadelphia RISE: Forging A Better Connection With Ex-Offenders

RISE client job interview

Each year, more than 30,000 citizens return to Philadelphia from federal, state and county prisons. Most return jobless, without stable housing, and lacking the skills they need to succeed. For too long, the challenges facing this vulnerable population were largely ignored. However, in recent years the issue has gained a new sense of urgency, thanks to a growing dialogue around excessive incarceration, a need for greater public safety, and the desire to reduce costs for taxpayers.

Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services, or RISE, was created to serve Philadelphia’s ex-offenders and help them get back on their feet. The program’s success relies on its ability to communicate with its audience. But with RISE caseworkers juggling almost 100 clients at a time, keeping up regular communication and serving everyone’s needs is a difficult task.

RISE needed a communication tool that could reach their clients wherever they are, even those who are highly transient and often without home Internet access. With over 90 percent of Americans owning cell phones, and 81 percent using text messaging – even among ex-offenders – interactive texting was the clear choice.

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OCT 27 2015

The Road to a More Connected Gwinnett County

Great Exchange Header

All images via The Great Exchange.

A major suburban county in the Atlanta metro region, Gwinnett County boasts a population of around 900,000 people, spread out over a vast area. As is typical in the suburban United States, cars are the dominant form of transportation in Gwinnett, and other options for getting around are limited. Long commutes and heavy traffic are a daily standard for some residents, leaving many wishing for alternatives.

In summer of 2015, the Gwinnett Village and Gwinnett Place Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) collaborated with area leaders to host a widespread dialogue on the future of transportation in the region, titled “The Great Exchange on Transportation.” They enlisted the help of design/strategy collaborative Aha! Strategy to design a massive outreach campaign, with a Textizen survey at its center.

Somewhat unusually, the effort was not designed to inform a specific project or proposal, but to get the entire community to paint a vision of the future of Gwinnett County. It was one of the most ambitious outreach efforts the region has seen, and resulted in tens of thousands of conversations, 1,400 web survey responses, and over 2,700 text survey responses in one week.

“The Great Exchange was a non-agenda driven initiative to get people to take a step back, provide broad feedback, and build the framework for a future transportation plan. We used this as an opportunity to let the people be aspirational, and it exceeded all of our expectations.”

Chuck Warbington
Executive Director, Gwinnett Village CID

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JUN 15 2015

Kirkland Parks Opens Dialogue on Bold New Aquatic Center Plan

ARC artist's rendering

With a growing population including many young families, the demand for aquatic and recreation centers is high in Kirkland, Washington. In August 2013, Kirkland announced that city’s only public indoor pool would be shut down in 2017. The announcement sparked a public outcry, and the Department of Parks and Community Services began to draw up plans for a state-of-the-art Aquatics, Recreation and Community Center (ARC). As public debate continued, Kirkland still needed hard data about the support of the plan, and particularly where the plan’s supporters and detractors were located.

To gather the broad, quantitative data they needed, Kirkland Parks and Community Services Director Jennifer Schroder launched a Textizen survey for public input. In February 2015, Kirkland Parks sent out a community-wide mailer about the proposed ARC, with a Textizen prompt asking whether the project was a good idea. In total, 1,195 community members provided input by text.

“You can’t rely on everyone just reading the local newspaper or subscribing to a listserv for city news…. Asking a question gives us an idea of who’s reading what we’re sending out. I’ve been very pleased with the results.”

-Jennifer Schroder, Director of Parks and Community Services

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MAR 31 2015

City of Reno Opens Dialogue on Virginia Lake Improvement Project

Virginia Lake

Photo by Alana Reid. Used with permission.

An oasis in the middle of the city, Reno’s Virginia Lake is a popular place for strolling, picnicking, and observing the abundant waterfowl. But in recent years, the lake has suffered from declining water quality and overgrowth of algae.

In the summer of 2014, Reno’s Public Works department decided it was time to act. The City of Reno embarked on a water quality study to identify contributing factors, and potential solutions. They invited the public to weigh in on four options related to the condition of the lake.

To include a broad range of voices in this discussion, Reno deployed a Textizen survey and promoted it through social media, newspapers, the City’s e-newsletter, and flyers posted around town. The survey offered the chance to vote on the proposed options, as well as share favorite lakeside activities and where in Reno (or outside the city) the respondents live.

“People who couldn’t make it to the public meetings were thrilled that they could still make their voices heard. We were amazed at how citizens responded to being included in the process.

-Monica Thompson
Digital Engagement Program Manager, City of Reno

It seemed like a lively, but fairly typical, public feedback effort. But as the Textizen survey brought more people into the process, and word-of-mouth spread, something interesting happened.

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FEB 04 2015

Real-Time Feedback Guides Construction in Palo Alto

Palo Alto construction site

Home to parts of Stanford University as well as several high-tech companies, Palo Alto, California prides itself on being a hub of innovation. In this same spirit, Palo Alto’s city government strives toward greater efficiency and better public service through technology.

One of the areas Palo Alto initially targeted for technological improvement was construction permitting and inspection. Long waits and laborious back-and-forth with multiple city departments were frustrating and expensive for developers, business owners, and architects. Palo Alto’s upgraded Development Services office was created to address these issues, establishing a single office for all construction-related processes. Developers and architects were relieved.

However, construction often affects the lives of nearby residents and commuters as well, so Palo Alto Development Services also wanted to ensure that citizens could easily provide feedback about construction projects. They launched a pilot program using a Textizen prompt on signs at construction sites, allowing passersby to learn more about and offer feedback on the project

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JAN 28 2015

4 Tips for Creative Outreach Techniques

Header image

This post is Part 2 in our series about improving your outreach techniques to drive more responses to your campaigns and make the greatest impact possible. In Part 1, we examined outreach material design, and how visual layout can increase the effectiveness of your posters. In this post, we’re going to give four tips for getting the public talking—and texting—about your campaign.

Tip #1: Understand Placement Fundamentals

Before you start to dream up creative and out-of-the-box approaches to outreach, it’s important to consider the two fundamentals: visibility and attention.


Needless to say, your materials need to be where people will see them! For posters, consider high-traffic areas like coffee shops, transit stops, or onboard trains or buses. For smaller flyers, consider car windshields, elevators, or bike racks—just be sure to get the appropriate permission, of course.


Visibility alone will not ensure success—every bit as important is whether people who see it will take the time to engage. For advertisers, 1000 people taking a passing glance at an ad may be a success, but if you want people to take specific action, 100 close examinations is worth more than 1000 glances. A coffee shop window may be a great place for your posters, but not if it’s inside a busy train station where many people are rushing to their next destination.

Now that you’ve got the fundamentals, read on for 3 more tips on creative outreach techniques.

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Filed under outreach, tips
JAN 15 2015

3 Tips for Writing a Great Survey Hook

Survey hook header

Welcome to the first post in a new series about improving your survey design for more effective outreach! Today, we’re going to give three tips on how to make the first question of your survey – the “hook” – as strong as possible to draw more responses.

Tip #1: Be direct

With a typical text-in survey prompt (on a poster, flyer, etc.), you have just a few seconds to grab people’s attention and compel them to text a reply. Your visual design is crucial for this, but it’s equally important that your prompt be clear and concise.

  • Weak hook: “The City is considering a new business development initiative for this area. Text YES to participate in a survey about this effort.”
  • Strong hook: “What business would you like to see here?”

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Filed under outreach, tips
JAN 07 2015

Philadelphia LISC Embraces Text Surveying for Community Building

LISC header image

Starting December 2014, Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a nonprofit community development organization and catalyst for community change, has adopted Textizen to support its work with community partners to strengthen neighborhoods and improve the lives of residents for a better Philadelphia.

As LISC brings people and organizations together to revitalize neighborhoods, Textizen will serve as a robust community engagement tool, improving each community partner’s capacity to reach and engage residents. LISC’s community partners have more than 25 planned uses for text message outreach and communication in 2015, including programs already underway in West Philadelphia and Eastern North Philadelphia.

Although the planned uses vary widely, there is a common theme: text surveying will streamline the delivery of services, while also establishing a platform for continued engagement. The ability to reach out to entire groups of program participants at once will not only make routine communication easier, it will also help organizers develop new programs or refine existing ones in response to community interests or needs.

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DEC 22 2014

Textizen Partners with Philadelphia RISE to Fight Recidivism

RISE header

Image via Joshua Davis (CC SA 2.0).

With the U.S. having the second-highest incarceration rate in the world (707 out of every 100,000 people) and a rearrest rate of 67.8%, many voices are calling for solutions to reduce convictions and to improve prisoners’ reentry into society. Last summer, the City of Philadelphia decided to turn to the tech world for innovative solutions, inviting companies to offer their technology through the FastFWD pilot program. Now, Textizen has joined the City to improve outlooks for those returning to society.

Textizen will be contributing to the effort against recidivism through a partnership with the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services, or RISE. The agency will use Textizen to help case workers better serve their clients, while using data gathered in the process to evaluate the program’s effectiveness and identify areas for improvement.

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Filed under human-services
DEC 18 2014

Philly Mayor’s Office of Education Launches Connect2College with Textizen

Mayor Nutter talks Connect2College

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter speaking at a press conference about Connect2College. Via @DCSphila_org.

The mission of the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Education PhillyGoes2College initiative sounds simple enough: increase college attendance by ensuring all college-seeking Philadelphians have access to the information they need. However, finding communication methods that reach youth is a serious challenge for many organizations.

For their new outreach initiative, the Mayor’s Office was determined to construct a system that would truly engage their audience. The program, called Connect2College is a set of 3 coordinated services designed to reach youth wherever they are, and help Philly-area students in their college search and application process.

“We believe these three coordinated interventions — labs, an online tool and a texting app, offer unprecedented and holistic services, which will encourage more Philadelphia residents to attend and complete college.”

— Leana Cabral, Director, PhillyGoes2College

A key component of the program is the Connect2College interactive text message service, powered by Textizen. Using the service is simple: students text in anytime and answer a series of questions about their college-related needs. Through the course of the conversation, students are automatically directed to relevant resources, such as loan information or steps to getting a GED.

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Filed under education, outreach, youth
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.

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Filed under engagement
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.

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Filed under environmental
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.

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Filed under outreach, tips
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.

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Filed under transportation
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.

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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.”

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Filed under transportation