In their words: Making pricing clear

To help you get a little better sense of what some of the tools in the Online Public Engagement Emporium are like, I’ll start sharing with you when I find a particularly good blog post or release notes that’s specific to one of these platforms, or relevant to the question of commercial online public engagement tools in general.

I go through a ton of content every week for EngagingCities, but we limit the amount of commercially-promotional materials there for the sake of journalistic integrity and to make sure our readers get something that’s generally useful, not just if they’re using that  specific platform.

(We do have a sponsored content program there that is pretty sweet and allows sponsors to tell more about a specific company or product, but we identify those up front.  You can learn more about providing sponsored content for EngagingCities here.  Shameless promotional plug hereby terminated.)

In the process, though, I end up reading a lot of these companies’ blogs, and they give you a little more insight into not only their technical odds and ends, but their approach, their personality, their character, etc.  As I have been prepping this site, it struck me that sharing a few of these might help you get to know these companies as well, in addition to learning more about how to do effective online public engagement.

This first one comes from Frank Hebbert of OpenPlans.  It’s actually posted on a separate blog from the official OpenPlans/Shareabouts blog, but I thought it was an important insight into one of the first issues you will hit: figuring out how much these things cost.  Sounds like a good place to start.

You can follow Frank’s blog, OpenSourcePlanning, here.

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Price transparency is good for civic tech

A few weeks ago at OpenPlans we put our prices for Shareabouts onto our website. Before then, if you wanted to pay OpenPlans to set up a map, we had to talk about it – our prices weren’t secret, and I’ve happy described them on conference panels, but getting the details wasn’t as easy as going to our website and looking.

Price transparency like this is a really good thing for people buying technology for government. We’re chipping away at the appallingly expensive status quo.

I know that the fine people at Civic Insight have done something similar, and they even have a fancy pricing calculator.

Shared prices reduces friction for people seeking high-quality tools.

Every phone call or email followup to find out about the cost of tools is a small barrier to doing a better job of community involvement – small barriers that add up enough to stop a busy person. And even for a simple query, that research time that could be better spent on other tasks.

Transparent pricing helps other people advocate for good tools.

We all benefit from a well-informed community inside and outside city government, with realistic expectations of the costs of tools. These tools are also much cheaper than many people expect, but they aren’t free. And what you pay for is extremely good value. Having this info available helps everyone understand the options.

Why keep prices secret? Concern that these might not be the “right” prices perhaps? Sure: we might not be charging enough, or more than some cities want to pay for particular features. As we keep working on adding new features, we will re-evaluate. Perhaps concern about being undercut by others? Or wanting to keep pricing flexible/opaque in case a mythical deep-pocketed client shows up? Neither of these seems like good arguments to me (and they weren’t ones used by anyone at OpenPlans, I should add – we were slow to do this mostly because we’re small and busy).

The prices we’re sharing don’t cover everything, for example special feature development we are often asked to do. Soon, we will add prices for OpenPlans, our planning communication tool. We have more work ahead to give greater openness to the costs of hiring us, but we’re trying.

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