New Resident-Facing Platform Seeks Public Input, *Minus the Trolls*

 

PlaceSpeak, a location-based civic engagement tool, is designed to prevent interference from bots and trolls that have plagued online discourse as of late.

This platform is called PlaceSpeak, and it is already being used by a wide range of government agencies in both Canada and the United States, in a variety of locales that range from Orange County, Fla., to Vancouver, British Columbia, to Dallas. PlaceSpeak is far from the first to attempt to gauge the opinions of the citizenry online, but what sets it apart is that PlaceSpeak uses tech that identifies users based on locations, ensuring that only residents who live in certain areas can weigh in on the debates relevant to them.

In January, PlaceSpeak started working with the Cowichan Valley Regional District in British Columbia, Canada, and officials there say the rollout has been well received, with an increasing number of users signing on, said Cynthia Lockrey, manager of strategic services for the Cowichan Valley Regional District.

Lockrey and her agency have used PlaceSpeak to foster discourse on serious topics such as soil management and bylaws related to dogs, but they’ve also used it to do fun things, asking for lists of favorite places to spend time in the area. In the past six months, they’ve seen about 1,200 residents of their community of 80,000 sign up and use the platform.

This is a stark contrast from local in-person meetings — meetings that required staff and resources — which have sometimes drawn as few as six community members.

Lockrey has worked hard to foster use of PlaceSpeak by going to the local swimming pool on the weekend and personally telling people about it. She and her staff have also done outreach at farmer’s markets, in the newspaper, all over social media and in a number of other places.

“This is not just about the technology,” Lockrey said. “It’s about the people.”

PlaceSpeak officials say the company has greatly benefited from working with SAP’s Startup Focus, a driving force behind the SentiMap technology the platform uses.