The flagship product of Berkeley, CA-based software developer Peak Democracy, Open Town Hall is an online public engagement forum aimed at augmenting and enhancing routine civic engagement. Open Town Hall forums stress adherence to the rules and decorum of traditional government hearings to ensure engagement is orderly and coherent. In addition to having content monitored for relevance and civility by both software platforms and Peak Democracy account managers, user authentication is required and participants are only allowed to comment once per topic- a measure that helps ensure participants cannot dominate conversation, or argue and attack one another.
Similar to other platforms discussed here, Open Town Hall forums allow users to vote for ideas they support, with the top vote getting ideas rising to the top of the page for prioritized viewing. Users can post pictures and videos to supplement their ideas, and forum admins have the ability to respond to participant ideas either privately or publicly.
While Open Town Hall’s prioritization of decorum makes the platform more rigid in its approach to soliciting input and generating ideas from the public, Peak Democracy continues to roll out new features that help optimize the utility of the platform for its clients. Prioritization widgets have been created to enable participants to give their opinions on budget issues, including the prioritization of government spending, budgetary cuts, and policy issue priorities. Additionally, Open Town Hall enables administrators to post jurisdictional maps, correlate input with the geographic location of the commenter, and generate ‘heat maps’ of where comments are coming from. Administrators can also search the full body of feedback for terms, as well as view a word cloud which shows the most used words in the topic comments. All comments can be downloaded and saved as PDFs, and clients can download and export data easily through the program.
Open Town Hall has been used by over 50 government agencies across the United States, serving over 80,000 online attendees. Open Town Hall is compatible with mobile devices, and users can even participate via text message or the scanning of QR codes, where available. The platform can be effective for routine public engagement, such as that surrounding council or budget deliberations, but the platform is not designed for extensive idea generation such as is common among the more planning-oriented platforms.
Annual subscriptions start at $2,500 a year, and Peak Democracy handles all of the IT issues on their servers, as well as all help requests from constituents using the platform.