City to explore platforms to engage public

September 25, 2020

Following a commission request, Birmingham city management intern Melissa Fairbairn gave a presentation on public engagement platforms at the city commission meeting on Monday, September 21, with commissioners then requesting staff to move forward with more research on the Bang the Table platform.

Fairbairn said five relevant platforms were reviewed on “ways to engage residents on the governmental decision-making process for master planing, park development and renovation, and infrastructure projects. Cities also use public engagement platforms as a space to receive and respond to feedback and gather proposals for new programs from their residents. Public engagement platforms offer methods such as polls, forums, surveys, idea boards, participatory budgeting games, and pinnable maps to encourage citizen participation. They are designed to bring citizens into the decision-making process.”

 She explained that three of the platforms, Bang the Table, CitizenLab, and PlaceSpeak, offer the full set of features that Birmingham may want to use for future public engagement opportunities, with Bang the Table offering the most thorough and comparable features, as well as extensive list of U.S. cities now using it. CitizenLab has many European clients including Linz, Austria and Leuven, Belgium, and Vancouver, Canada has also used the CitizenLab platform. PlaceSpeak offers only some of the features of the other two, and has been used in cities in Canada.

Bang the Table would cost $13,000 in annual subscription, with a $1,900 one-time onboarding fee, and could provide the city with its own URL, and offer unlimited projects, Fairbairn said. CitizenLab has a $9,500 annual subscription for unlimited projects, with a $2,400 one-time onboarding fee. PlaceSpeak would cost $4,900 a year for just one project.

Planning Director Jana Ecker said she had reviewed these with Fairbairn and has ideas for ways to use the platforms if the city commission approves one.

“I'm a little more inclined towards Bang The Table because they have 24-hour moderators, and it's easier to read their platform,” she said.

Bang the Table is used in 75 cities in the United States, primarily out west and in Canada, Fairbairn  said to questions from commissioners, as well as several cities in Minnesota and Ontario.

Commissioners directed staff to move forward with more research on Bang the Table.

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