CivicPatterns: A Common Language for Creating Citizen Engagement Apps

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Via the Knight Foundation blog, I just found out about CivicPatterns, a new pattern language effort that was announced by the International Journalists’ Network (IJNet) in late June. From the website:

CivicPatterns is a catalogue of design patterns and tools for civic technology projects. Anyone who builds public tools needs to make sure that their approach is going to have real effects, and that they avoid common pitfalls. This site tries to establish a pattern language to support a discussion about what works, what fails and why.

According to the announcement, CivicPatterns “focuses on four themes: Community, Engagement, Delivery and Government.” More:

Civic Patterns is the beginnings of a language for those working to design civic technology. More than that, however, it could be a common vocabulary for all those who want to make apps for the public good – a group that certainly includes journalists and news technologists. Of course, this work is by no means finished. Instead – like any language – it is itself a collaborative project, where anyone is invited to suggest changes and additions.

Once we have a common language, we might realize that we’ve been working on the same problem all along.

Most of the patterns listed to date are still stubs (and may or may not stand the test of time), but anyone interested can join in the fun and get involved on Github and .


Friday Findings


A few interesting bits that crossed our stream this week:

  • Caroline W. Lee (Associate Professor of Sociology, Lafayette College) has a book coming out early next year: Do-It-Yourself Democracy The Rise of the Public Engagement Industry (Oxford University Press). Via the IAP2 Canada Facebook group, hat tip to Mary Moreland.
  • Participatory budgeting expands big time in New York City
  • The GovLab launches Demos for Democracy, “an ongoing series of live, interactive online demos featuring designers and builders of the latest innovative governance platforms, tools or methods to foster greater openness and collaboration to how we govern.”

Enjoy your weekend!


Top Posts June 2014


Before the month is out, a quick look back at our June top posts (for the period April through June 2014):

As usual, our three uncontested overall top performing posts:

Thank you for your attention.


Participatory Budgeting: Updated North America Participation Metrics 2013/2014

Participatory Budgeting

Update 2014/07/25: The voting period for PB Vallejo is actually September 27 through October 6, 2014. Thanks for the correction, John De La Torre.

PB North America participation metrics screenshot

Last May, we released a collaborative spreadsheet on participatory budgeting participation metrics in North America.

It has proven quite popular, so we’ve kept it up to date throughout the 2013/2014 cycle. You can check out the latest numbers on Google Docs: Participatory Budgeting: North America participation metrics

A newly added tab compares turn-out numbers for all North American PB projects year-over-year.

For the 2013/2014 cycle in the U.S., we’ve been tracking a total of 20 projects, 19 of which have now completed (PB Vallejo is set to start the voting process during this year’s PB conference on Saturday, September 27 and will release the results shorty after the voting period ends on October 6). Let us know if you’re aware of any others. Or better yet, go ahead and start adding to the data that’s already there. Thanks!


IAP2 USA Survey: Public Participation Core Competencies

Public Participation, Radar

The International Association for Public Participation in the United States (IAP2 USA) has launched an initiative to develop a certification program for public participation professionals. From the website:

The IAP2 Certification process is just beginning. IAP2 USA in cooperation with IAP2 Canada and IAP2 Southern Africa are working on behalf of the rest of the IAP2 Affiliates and the Federation to develop a Certification Program. The goal is to create a Certification Program for IAP2 USA that can serve as a template for other Affiliates that want to define their own programs.


Other professions (facilitators, architects, planners, attorneys, and engineers, to name but a few) offer credentialing programs that define professional standards and independently assess individuals’ performance in accordance with those standards.

Now it is IAP2’s turn.

The Task Force are working hard to think through what it might look like and how it might be delivered. But, we are just at the beginning and before we go too far we want to check in with IAP2 members and non-members worldwide.

IAP2 USA is asking practitioners around to globe to participate in a short online survey to help identify the core competencies of today’s public participation professional:

The purpose of this survey is to gather information about the core competencies of a fully qualified and experienced public participation (P2) practitioner. This survey is being conducted by the IAP2 USA Certification Task Force. The Certification Task Force is committed to incorporating your ideas and suggestions into the final program design that we deliver to the IAP2 USA Board.

Deadline is Sunday, June 15.


Top Posts May 2014


Wait, it’s June already? Time to look back at the three most popular posts in recent posts (from the three-month period March through May 2014):

And there were our most popular legacy posts:

Thanks for reading!


GovLab Academy Event on Crowdlaw

Crowdsourcing, Events, Radar

Today at 6pm Eastern Time (3pm Pacific), the GovLab Academy will host the first of two “unconference” sessions on the topic of crowdsourcing in the lawmaking process (crowdlaw). From their website: Crowdlaw in Action: Details & A Preview of Next Week’s Online Event

On June 2, GovLab Academy will host the first of two online “unconferences” to bring together leaders and practitioners of crowdlaw, including online legislative drafting and constitution writing organizers and platform creators.

We are organizing this opportunity to learn from one another about what works, what doesn’t and what to do better to promote the institutionalization of crowdlaw as a means of engaging citizens more proactively and directly in our legislative processes.


What To Expect?

In each of these peer-to-peer learning sessions, crowdlaw implementers from around the world will share their experiences and then join in a moderated conversation to talk about:

  • Design: What makes for successful crowdlaw projects: what works, what doesn’t?
  • Incentives: How to encourage people to participate?
  • Impediments: What are the legal, cultural, technological and other obstacles?
  • Metrics: How to measure what works and demonstrate both legitimacy and effectiveness?

The session will then devolve into unmoderated discussion among participants and an open Q&A with those from the wider viewing audience.

Participants in today’s session include (see the article for links to their profiles and project websites):

  • Sarah Aguilar Flaschka and Mexico City Senator Mario Delgado – Wikiconstitucion in Mexico City.
  • Ricardo Augusto Poppi Martins – and the Brazilian Internet Bill of Rights.
  • Natalia Carfi – Chilean Government’s citizen consultation platform
  • Cristiano Ferri Faria – e-Democracia Project in Brazil
  • Pierre Tito Galla, Cecille Soria and Francis Euston Acero –Democracy.Net.PH and a crowdsourced Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom
  • Pia Mancini –Democracy OS
  • Giuseppe Della Pietra, Donatella Solda and Damien Lanfrey – Partecipa! in Italy.

The event will be live broadcast using the Hangouts on Air platform. Questions from the audience are welcome.


Consult Australia: Guide to Procuring Engagement Services

Radar, Research, ROI

Consult Australia is an Australian industry association. From their about page (emphasis mine):

Consult Australia is the leading not-for-profit association that represents the business interests of consulting firms operating in the built and natural environment. We do this at a commercial, community, industry, and government level through collaboration, education, support and advocacy.

Consult Australia member firms’ services include, but are not limited to:

  • Architecture
  • Cost consulting (quantity surveyors)
  • Engineering
  • Environmental science
  • Landscape architecture
  • Planning
  • Project management

We represent an industry comprising roughly 48,000 firms across Australia, ranging from sole practitioners through to some of Australia’s top 500 firms. Collectively, our industry is estimated to employ over 240,000 people, and generate combined revenue exceeding $40 billion a year.

Last year, Consult Australia, in collaboration with IAP2 Australasia, published a Guide to Procuring Engagement Services (PDF) .

The document uses the term engagement broadly (page 12):

What is engagement?

Engagement is the process by which government, organisations, communities and individuals connect in the development and implementation of decisions that affect them. Engagement is used as a tool to achieve outcomes, develop understanding, educate and/ or agree to solutions on issues of concern.

The level of engagement appropriate for each situation can range from a one-way transfer of information (providing and/or receiving information) through to consultation (seeking and receiving stakeholder views) and even actively involving or empowering stakeholders in the decision making process.

Engagement is a broad term that includes the concept of public participation and can also incorporate aspects of community, stakeholder or public relations, consultation, and government and media relations. Throughout this document, references to ‘engagement’ include all of the above with a focus on external, rather than internal engagement.

Seven additional definitions of the term from various government agencies across Australia are listed for comparison (page 13).

The document goes on to list a number of key benefits of engagement (here referring to public participation in particular, presumably):

What are the benefits of engagement?

Effective engagement can deliver a range of benefits for projects, government, organisations, communities and individuals:

Benefits for projects may include:

  • mitigating risk
  • increasing efficiencies through reduced costs and time (e.g. reduced risk of social conflict with associated delays and costs; or quicker and smoother permitting and approvals processes)
  • generating more innovative project outcomes (e.g. increased local knowledge leading to improved designs or construction methodologies)
  • managing reputations
  • developing and maintaining a social license to operate
  • helping to ensure compliance with relevant legislation.

Benefits for government and other procuring organisations may include:

  • improving relationships between government, organisations, community and stakeholders
  • creating opportunities to ‘health-check’ the above relationships in relation to specific issues, and work more closely on issues of concern
  • enhancing credibility and public accountability
  • informing and creating better policies, programs, services and projects by improving the timeliness, relevance, value and acceptability of decisions
  • providing more democratic outcomes through decision making that reflects a diversity of stakeholder ideas and perspectives and meets the ‘the greater balance’ of stakeholder needs and expectations
  • providing early notice of emerging issues so that all stakeholders are better placed to deal with those issues in a proactive way.

Benefits for communities and individuals may include:

  • establishing a shared vision or buy-in to decisions that foster accountability amongst all stakeholders, ownership of solutions and cohesion
  • increasing community capacity and stakeholder awareness about issues enabling community cohesion, consensus and compromise
  • enhancing opportunities for a diversity of voices to be heard by increasingly accountable government/s
  • sharing knowledge that contributes to better decisions and solutions that reflect stakeholder priorities and needs.

Experience shows that when the community understands the problem, and can be involved in being part of the solution, better project outcomes can be achieved.

Right below, the guide lists some of the risks associated with not involving the public (page 16):

What are the risks of ineffective engagement?

Engagement can also inevitably involve risks. For example, conflict and tension between stakeholders can be heightened as awareness and understanding of issues is increased and differences of opinion are discussed. In some cases where conflict and tension already exists between stakeholders, its resolution can be an objective of the engagement.

Other risks are related to ineffective engagement, for example:

  • not identifying and reaching intended stakeholders (this may include failing to engage a representative sample of individuals from large interest groups)
  • not engaging early enough for outcomes to be influenced (for example engaging after decisions have been made)
  • not fostering realistic stakeholder expectations and being clear from the outset about what can be negotiated and what cannot (for example spending large quantities of time discussing issues that are outside of scope of a particular project)
  • not ensuring adequate resources and time are available to undertake the required engagement
  • not providing clear and concise information
  • not recognising and designing the engagement to account for issues beyond the project that may influence the opinions of stakeholders or their willingness to participate in the process (such as poor past experiences with engagement leading to a lack of trust and cynicism with the process, consultation fatigue, or pre-existing relationships between stakeholders)
  • not providing closure for your process by giving adequate feedback to participants.

Finally, under “Step 4: Developing the Brief”, the procurement guide goes over a dozen or so key areas that need to be carefully considered when planning for public participation. Anyone who has completed the IAP2 Certificate Training will surely recognize these elements, but it’s always nice to come across such a succinct list. Good stuff!

As a special bonus, an “Engagement Professional Pre-Qualification Assessment” matrix is included in table 4 (page 32).

Table 4: Engagement Professional Pre-Qualification Assessment

Thanks to Timothy Horton for pointing out this resource on Twitter.


Creating Community Solutions: Zilino Cross-Campus Online Dialogue


Quick service announcement:

This has been in the making since last fall. We are currently exploring a number of other potential online dialogues on the same topic with organizations in the public and non-profit sector. Stay tuned!

To register for this dialogue, head on over to the Zilino blog: Upcoming Cross-Campus Dialogue on Mental Health.


White House Meeting on Participatory Budgeting Discusses Technology

Digital Engagement, Participatory Budgeting

Late last year, the White House came out with an endorsement of participatory budgeting (or PB, for short) by including the concept prominently in the Second U.S. Open Government National Action Plan. Earlier this week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) hosted a meeting on the topic, bringing together a group of several dozen practitioners, funders and researchers.

Next City today shared a first report, and while it doesn’t cover the day’s technology conversations in much detail, one of the comments it captured points to a larger issue (emphasis mine):

This being the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the second half of Tuesday’s event was focused on the sort of technology that might help spread participatory budgeting more broadly, such as voting apps or databases through which communities could share information.

However, attendees also talked about how technology can run counter to PB’s potential to open up the democratic process to a more diverse set of decision-makers. It’s a tension that Natasha Soto, of Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, framed as “making the process a little more efficient but not having efficiency or technology take over.” PB, she added, can be streamlined across communities, but there’s a risk of going too far. “It’s nice to have templates but you can’t just take something off-the-shelf,” says Soto, “because it depends where you are, which is the beauty of the participatory part.”

Yes, technology isn’t a silver bullet. And yes, there can be instances where the use of technology may hinder progress more than it may help. And who knows, maybe a scenario is possible under which technology would indeed “run counter” to the culture and the values of participatory budgeting (as hard as I find that to imagine). However, none of that is the real problem.

The big problem, at least with the way participatory budgeting has been rolled out in the United States to date, is that technology and digital engagement aren’t yet valued as strategic building blocks that are often helpful if not necessary in order to achieve overall project success.

Having followed the various PB projects in the United States quite closely for a while now, here are some of the digital engagement anti patterns that appear frequently:

  • No clear objectives: Many of the digital engagement efforts I’ve seen seem to happen haphazardly and not as part of a well thought-out strategy or plan. There is little indication that digital engagement opportunities are identified based on a thorough assessment of the local PB lifecycle at the beginning of the process. Without clear goals, impact remains murky at best.
  • Lack of planning and design: For the most part, it appears digital engagement does not play much of a role during the overall planning and design phase. It’s more of an afterthought. As a results, in-person and online engagement opportunities are often disjointed and lack integration.
  • Inadequate tool choices: Tools are not selected intentionally based on what’s necessary and appropriate given the conditions and intended outcomes of the local PB project.
  • Poor implementation: The tool question still tends to garner most of the attention, while a lot of other factors and activities (e.g. outreach, support, moderation/facilitation, community management, evaluation and reporting) remain mostly neglected or ignored.

To be clear, these observations are based mostly on outside appearances as well as some anecdotal evidence. While they may not be 100% accurate on a case-by-case basis, the general picture they paint is pretty clear.

Who knows? Maybe participatory budgeting in the United States will figure out a way to evolve and continue to grow without embracing (the informed use of) technology as a key component, though I seriously doubt it. Participatory budgeting is not without its critics. Some question the general concept. Some point out the disproportionately (in their opinion) high effort it takes to run PB. Others have taken issue with the relatively low participation and voter turn-out numbers PB has produced in the US so far. As one City of Vallejo council member was quoted on Marketplace the other day (from minute 2:00): “Residents need to use the process or they might lose it.”

Broader, more robust digital engagement has the potential to play a key role in addressing these and many other issues in the future, so it would be a huge mistake not to get smart about it.

The upcoming PB Conference in September here in the Bay Area will be a great venue to move this discussion forward in person. Hopefully we’ll see a few capacity-building sessions on the agenda.