This is a guest post by Cory Poris-Plasch, Vice President- Customer Success at POLCO
Imagine a world where we could hear from not just the vocal few who seem to relish the opportunity to engage the city, but our average citizens, those who are busy with families and jobs but who don’t normally have the time to attend city council meetings. Where cities can get constructive input data from these residents to make decisions that benefit the whole community and shape public policy. Where staff time could be saved by using automatically organized and tabulated response data gathered from a wide spectrum of residents to improve the delivery of services. Nick Mastronardi and Alex Pedersen saw this need and discovered that no solution existed to fill the gap between what cities wanted to hear and the information they were receiving. So they created Polco.
Polco is a custom technology that allows your residents to communicate with you at their convenience on topics you set forth, but using a platform that allows for the easy aggregation of referenceable resident satisfaction and sentiment data. Good civic engagement doesn’t have to depend on managing multiple channels if one channel is provided that is easy, accessible, can unify other channels where residents already are, and is designed in a way to promote constructive dialogue. We have found that average citizens want to give input, they just don’t want to engage in the negative social media environment where simply voicing an opinion can lead to blistering personal attacks. In today’s busy world, they don’t have time to come to board meetings or public hearings. Technology has given us the ability to get referenceable results using digital tools, and communities that use Polco have found that they don’t get more extreme voices, but a more representative balance of what their community thinks as more voices join the discussion.
The process is simple. Cities post questions and helpful supporting information to get input. Polco then helps communities share the questions through various communication channels including social media, newsletters, websites, and more. When residents join Polco, they verify themselves as residents (providing name and zip code) and become a subscriber to their city and county on Polco, making it easy for them to get mobile notifications or weekly email notifications when their municipal leaders post new policy polls and surveys for community input. Non-verified residents can also respond, and multiple result breakdowns are provided to city leaders: sentiment by age, gender, district, precinct. To preserve privacy and foster a healthy civic environment, individual results are never shared. Individual comments are allowed but structured in a way that virtually eliminates conflict, providing valuable qualitative data. Cities get real citizen sentiment data to make decisions, and that staff time is saved by having all of the information in one place. Because it’s online and accessible 24/7, residents appreciate being able to give input when convenient for them, leading to increased participation rates and a more representative pool of respondents.
Imagine your community experiences a weather event such as a snowstorm. Now imagine that you reach out to them through Polco to provide a snapshot of how the city responded with their snow and ice removal efforts. An analysis of the data at an aggregate level shows the community overall has rated the response as between good and very good. But now imagine that you can drill down the data to the ward level, and you discover that while most of the community rated the response as very good, two wards rated the response as poor. How does that change the way you look at the data? How does that change your response? How do the residents of those two wards view the city when you send an outcome to all who responded to the poll, letting them know the city is taking steps to improve future service delivery? And how might the city improve service delivery and resident satisfaction rates if they continually track the data, not just gathering it every three years through the Resident Satisfaction Survey?
The scenarios we’ve imagined in this blog are reality for Polco clients, the examples being drawn from actual customer experiences and feedback. Good civic engagement is the result of engaging residents in a way that is easy for them to participate in a meaningful way. While often the vocal few are not representative of the community, other times they may be indicative of an issue that is impacting just a small, but important subsection. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tell the difference?
We invite you to check us out at overview.polco.us to find out more about how easy it can be to get started. Welcome to a new way to engage your community. Welcome to Polco.
About the author: Cory Poris-Plasch is the Vice President of Customer Success at POLCO