This post is a couple of months old, but I think it’s notable for a couple of reasons. First is practical: it gives a good basic understanding of the different purposes and functions of two well-known platforms. Second, it represents one of the first times that I’ve seen one of the available online public engagement platforms speak directly to where they fit vis a vis the other available commercial platforms. In the early days of this field, it seemed to me like most of the providers wanted to believe that they were ideal for every community, every project, every situation. When you’re a start-up, your product is your baby, and we’re all inclined to believe that our baby is the most beautiful of all. Most of those have since learned that they need to be a little more focused, that their specific tools are well-suited for certain uses and not so well for others.
My only complaint with this post is the claim that MetroQuest is the “only platform with an extensive toolbox of screen types.” While it’s not clear to me exactly what is meant by “screen types,” and it’s true that most of the app-type providers have one standard interface that can be skinned to match a certain project’s graphic design, one should note that some of the providers, such as EngagingPlans, offer a very high level of flexibility, and that several providers are working on creating higher levels of customization. Also, MindMixers do provide pretty robust tools for participant education through embedded video, linked documents, etc. But unlike MetroQuest, the MindMixer interface doesn’t force you to go through that material first. There are pros, and there are cons.
Here’s Dave Briggs of MetroQuest:
Project leaders are faced with challenging decisions when designing community involvement approaches for planning projects. In some situations, online engagement can provide a cost-effective alternative or complement to traditional forms of engagement. Choosing the most appropriate online tool to meet the needs of the project can be difficult since many tools seem similar.
MetroQuest and MindMixer are two of the most popular tools and many people ask how they differ. The short answer is MetroQuest is a survey tool and MindMixer is a crowdsourcing tool.
Crowdsourcing tools, like MindMixer, encourage participants to generate their own ideas and vote on each other’s ideas so the most popular ideas rise to the top. The content is primarily text-based questions and responses.
MetroQuest, as a style of survey tool, collects very specific input from participants to inform decision-making for the planning process. It’s also a highly visual and educational tool that helps people learn about the choices and their tradeoffs to inform their input.
Next are some key differentiators to help determine which tool is right for your engagement needs.
KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN METROQUEST AND MINDMIXER
TYPE OF PUBLIC INPUT NEEDED
What type of input do you need from the public?
|→ Public provides open-ended ideas.
With crowdsourcing tools, participants create their own content or ideas. Input is open-ended and text-based in most cases. It can be freeing for participants to have this flexibility but it can be difficult for planners to analyze the results for reporting.
|→ Public provides specific input that can be tabulated and analyzed.
With a survey, the project team creates specific questions for participant response. These can include a wide variety of input types, such as priorities ranking, item rating, comments on maps, scenario voting, and budget allocation. Quantitative outputs can be easier to analyze and summarize in planning documents.
What functionality and types of interactivity are needed?
|→ Idea generation and voting are needed.
MindMixer has a standard format and can be deployed out-of-the-box. It’s functionality is focused on idea generation and voting.
|→ Various types of interactivity are needed.
MetroQuest is the only tool available that has an extensive toolbox of screen types to satisfy diverse needs. As such each MetroQuest configuration is tailor-made by the MetroQuest team in collaboration with project personnel to best meet the needs of the project.
FLOW OF DIALOG
Is it more important that participants communicate with each other or with the agency?
|→ Dialog flows from participant to participant.
In crowdsourcing, dialog is between participants. They generate the ideas and vote on each other’s ideas in a collaborative exercise.
|→ Dialog flows from participants to the agency.
In a survey, the dialog is from the participant to the agency or planning team. The planning team defines the questions and participants respond.
Is community education a key requirement (e.g. learning about options & tradeoffs)?
|→ No, education is not critical on this project.
In MindMixer, the content is created by participants. They can offer any idea they wish. It’s up to users to consider those ideas and make their own conclusions.
|→ Yes, education is a key component.
In MetroQuest, the content is created by the project team and is presented in a way that can be quickly and easily understood by the public. Learning is up front and built into the interface to help ensure the input being collected is informed.
Throughout the course of planning projects there is often a time to generate ideas followed by a need to develop and refine alternatives. We are thrilled to recommend MindMixer to assist with the former and we stand ready to assist with the latter.