The Textizen Blog

Category: outreach

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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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 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 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
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