The Textizen Blog

Category: engagement

MAY 05 2015

New York City Brings Budgeting to the People

NYC PB voting staff

Image via New York City Council.

In 1989, government reformers in Porto Alegre, Brazil had a brilliant idea to combat the city’s rampant inequality and uneven representation of the city’s poor. They introduced the world’s first full implementation of participatory budgeting, a democratic way to allocate public funds. Under participatory budgeting, community members develop and propose civic projects, which are then funded with taxpayer money based on public vote.

Since then, the participatory budgeting movement has spread far and wide, with adoption in over 1,500 cities across the globe. Four years ago, New York City launched its own program, now the largest in the U.S. This April, over $25 million in public money was allocated to locally-developed projects across 24 city districts, selected by popular vote. This year’s expansion more than doubles the number of participating districts, and represents a nearly 80% increase in funding allocated for participatory budgeting from the previous fiscal year.

Equal representation is a core goal of participatory budgeting, and New York’s City Council chose Textizen to inform and engage residents in preparation for the voting in April. The Council’s goal was to not only drive greater participation in this year’s voting, but also to stay in touch with residents over the long term and make this year’s process more representative than the last.

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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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MAR 23 2015

Mobile Engagement in the Era of App Overload

iPhone home screens

These days, there seems to be an app for everything. Voice-enabled pizza ordering? Check. An app that says “Yo?” Check. As of today, Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store are home to over 1.4 million apps, each!

If these numbers seem overwhelming, you’re not alone. In 2012, mobile analytics company Adeven (now Adjust) reported that 400,000 apps on Apple’s store had never been downloaded at all. At the time, this was nearly two-thirds of all iPhone and iPad apps, completely ignored.

Since then, the total number of apps available has more than doubled, but recent usage trends aren’t any more encouraging. Of the apps that are downloaded, one in five is only opened once, and people spend the majority of their app time using only their four favorites.

In our work at Textizen, we talk to countless people working for governments, service providers, and businesses, who are passionate about public participation. Many believe that deploying an app will solve their participation woes and unlock the power of mobile engagement. But there’s a problem: not everyone has a smartphone (only about 58% of U.S. adults), and those who do are already drowning in app overload.

The fact is, “if we build it, they will come” works better for amusement parks than for apps. Unless you think your app will join the elite few that see downloads and repeated use, it may be time to rethink your mobile strategy.

Read more on PBS Idea Lab »

Filed under engagement, mobile, outreach
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 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