It’s no secret that social media has a strong foothold in public participation. From influencing national revolutions in the Middle East to helping re-launch careers, major social networks like Twitter and Facebook have the ability to spread information and connect users faster than ever before. With regards to planning, social media is used as a tool in breaking down the barriers between planners and constituents, using the medium as a way to crowdsource ideas and promote a bottom-up approach to a usually top-down practice. As a result, plans become more custom-tailored to the needs of the people, and citizens feel empowered in their ability to directly influence public policy.
To promote Plan Fair, an opportunity for Portland, Oregon residents to meet with city officials to discuss issues related to social equity, economy, public health, and education, the city has been marketing the series of summits on Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, they are encouraging fans and followers not only to come to the meetings, but also to download online materials from the official website and engage in conversation with each other and city planners through online discussion groups and through the city’s official Facebook page.
In Biloxi, Mississippi the city has turned to crowdsourcing to map services, local institutions, and community organizations. Users can input data on a shareable Google Map. This allows the city to take stock of its available resources and find existing gaps based on its residents’ primary observations.
Finally, in Seattle, Washington the city has reached out to its residents for suggestions on how to balance the upcoming budget by giving visitors to the budget site the ability to submit ideas directly through an input box. Not only do city officials get to see where residents want more and less of the city’s budget to be spent, but users are also given the opportunity to comment on each other’s ideas, further shaping the suggestions to fit the needs of multiple residents.
While the results of these plans and efforts have yet to be fully realized, they are taking great steps in using the power of the internet and collective information to change and shape policy to better suit the need of constituents. Ultimately, these cities and their hope to create better dialogues with their residents, and to encourage residents to talk to each other for even more idea sharing, both on- and off-line. By giving residents the capacity to contribute to policy through these sites and social media, it not only presents the city as “hip” and “modern”, but also ultimately creates policy that better serves the needs of the people, especially when the people are inputting information as it happens in real time. It truly brings participatory planning to the 2.0 level.
Writer’s note: This site was used to help find information for the three examples above.