One of the ongoing challenges in online public engagement is the question of how to make maps as useful and intuitive as possible for non-map users. This is often hard for people in the community professions (planning, economic development, city management, etc.) to get their heads around, but many laypeople have some trouble translating a familiar place into a two-dimentional drawing. Orienting themselves to the map, navigating it, and figuring out what all those abstract marks mean in real life… if you have ever run a public open house where you’re trying to show people information on a map, you know what I am talking about. There’s a very rational reason why most people tend to find their house on the map first — doing so if often the quickest way for them to connect the abstract thing to a real place. I have an operating theory that the prevalence of Google Maps might be making the general public more map-literate, but I haven’t seen anyone studying that question yet.
PlaceSpeak has staked out a very particular spot in the online public engagement space: if you have to know for certain that the feedback you get is coming from people who live within a specific area, PlaceSpeak is the one who can pin that down for you. Their process requires more information from the user than some of the others, and that may not be for everyone, but the result is that their process identifies pretty much exactly where the person who is participating is doing that from. When I log in to a PlaceSpeak, it puts a dot on my house in Ohio.
PlaceSpeak now has an additional capability for site-specific commenting. Within a PlaceSpeak initiative, a user can attach comments or respond to questions with regard to a specific location. Here’s what they said:
PlaceSpeak recently released Place It, a new interactive mapping tool. Place It allows users to post comments on maps within specific geographical areas. It combines an easy and accessible mode of PPGIS (public participation geographic information systems) with PlaceSpeak’s existing suite of online LBS (location-based service) tools to obtain verifiable feedback data for informing decision-making and policy development.
About Place It
Place It is a easy-to-use tool for enhancing location-specific online consultations. It allows participants to place points and comments on a map indicating preferences. Whether it is determining the best site for a park or a bike lane, the tool allows participants to contribute their feedback and vote on the contributions of others. Proponents of consultations can easily set up the interactive map as part of their PlaceSpeak consultation topic page, and export reports in a variety of formats.
Place It and PlaceSpeak combine to open up the deliberation process, allowing people unfiltered access to the ideas, opinions and preferences of others who share their interests in a particular topic, development or initiative.
As I noted, I think people’s ability to navigate an interactive mapping interface has been greatly improved over the past few years, and I’ll be interested to see how this plays out. I’m particularly interested to see how easy people find the interface — whether people feel like they can post or respond without having to think too hard about it or without fighting too hard to manipulate the controls. One of the ongoing challenges for all online public engagement providers is that they can create a different version of the barrier that public meetings sometimes present — instead of shutting out the person who can’t speak at the microphone, we might shut out the person who can’t figure out how to manipulate a map. That’s a user interface question, and it can certainly be addressed.