WikiMap - Trying to fill a gap in the world of online mapping

Map_of_Organizations___WikiAssetMap_1254416980137Ever since Google Maps was introduced and the first mashups evolved I've been fascinated by how these mapping tools can add to our work in civic engagement. But even years later, collaborative or community mapping with Web2.0 tools is somewhat challenging. We recently hosted a Community Asset Mapping effort around education in Biloxi with a website as repository and channel for participation. But since our needs were more complex than what Google MyMaps and Web2.0 web applications offer in terms of the data that we wanted to collect, we had to build our own website on Drupal.


This approach worked fine, but highlighted the gap that exists between free and easy hosted mapping services and labor- or cost-intensive custom mapping platforms (even though Drupal does makes life a lot easier - I'm a big fan in case you haven't noticed).


Some of the free mapping services that allow users to create maps, like, Google MyMaps and others do enable you to invite others to contribute. But each marker only has a title and a description field, that's it. What if you want to build a database with more information, like a url for each marker or contact information? Of course you can ask participants to squeeze that into the description field, but that usually gets messy and will require extra manual labor on your end. Or what about updating inaccurate information on other's markers?


And finally, what happens if some of the items you are collecting don't have a location? None of these mapping services will allow you to enter items that just appear in a list but not on the map.


I'm sure we're not the only ones that experience this gap, any asset mapping project, stakeholder analysis, spatial survey or any other kind of repository that requires specific input (more data fields than a simple description) from many contributors will face the same issue.

Earlier this week I actually discovered an approach to build a customizable collaborative map that only requires minimal web-savvy, is quick to set up and is completely based on free web services: Zoho Creator, an online database tool that allows us to build a flexible input type, Yahoo Pipes to map that input and Weebly, for the base website. All these services are free and in combination create a powerful and highly customizable mapping tool that fills the gap I outlined above pretty well. And best, it really is easy to replicate and won't take more than a half hour to set up. 


I created a demo at that is fully functional and outlines the 10 steps necessary to build your own.


I'm curious to hear your feedback!

10th World eDemocracy Forum

The 10th World e-Democracy Forum will take place on Thursday 22 and Friday 23 October 2009 with a new format and new ambitions. The election of Barack Obama has in fact validated the theories developed in the Forum since the early 2000s on the impact of ICTs on political life and civic participation. Time is coming for more concrete practice. The 10th World e-Democracy Forum want to bring to light those who daily work to build the digital society for citizens.


Let's make civic engagement more playful

Stuart Browns TED talk is a great inspiration to think about how to make engagement ­more playful.­

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­We are actually working on a paper in our Center for Advances in Public Engagement about games for deliberation, which I'm excited about. Stay tuned.

Twitter and Inclusiveness

The unique ways in which Twitter is being used as a communication tool are simply amazing. The use cases go far beyond simple status updates, from customer support to conference feedback. And the Twitter universe keeps growing, with new users and apps on a daily basis.

What still amazes me though, is how many people don't care about Twitter. Denver - where I live - is not New York or parts of California, where I assume the ratio of Twitter-user per capita must be more substantial. And the same is probably true for the tech industry in general, at tech conferences, meetups, barcamps etc. But when I'm around friends, many tech-savvy thirty-somethings, none of them care about Twitter. It's not something they use as part of their job or for networking purposes and they use Facebook to keep up with friends - so why bother updating another social media site? And they are just one example of many groups that are generally not on Twitter, and most likely will not be in the (short term?) future.

This has a serious impact on the effectiveness of using Twitter as a channel for feedback or dialogue. The hashtag sign is probably one of the most straight-forward, immediate discussion boards on the web and mobile - a wonderful back-channel at conferences or venue for chatter during TV shows. But it's limited to the Twitter audience while leaving everyone else wondering about the strange # sign. I've been to a few non-tech conferences that embraced a Twitter hashtag for conference communication and the Twitter conversation barely included a handful of people.

As someone working in the realm of civic engagement, I love the opportunities Twitter offers for public participation. For example to have a message board at events to collect instant feedback or ideas. Or to host a mobile dialogue, using a hashtag to discuss elements of a proposed masterplan right on-site in the neighborhood. Technically, Twitter allows us to do that. But using Twitter would leave the majority of voices out of the conversation, without even talking about the fact that plenty of Twitter users don't tweet from their phones.

With Twitter not only being a great communication tool, but also a wonderful exchange format with an open API, the question is: Can we use other channels of communication to broaden the user base while taking advantage of Twitter's unique ease-of-use and interactivity?

Text messaging has reached widespread adoption, with 65% of users 50 years or younger texting, up to 85% of those in the group between 18 - 29 years old. Twitter is not anywhere close to that. (I have experienced the unexperienced-ness of the 89% of those 65 years and older who don't text, but let's ignore that for now...).

Would adding a mobile option that is integrated into Twitter make those #hashtag conversations more inclusive?

That's what we would like to explore further. We built a prototype of such a platform at It allows users to mobilize Twitter accounts and hashtags, while participants can text in responses without the need of a Twitter subscription or smartphone. It's a second step towards inclusive, mobile dialogues (with Twitter's hashtags being the first one), but far from the last. And we'd love to hear your feedback and ideas. 

Conference Report - Using Virtual Reality for Stakeholder Engagement

­­­Public Decisions today released the conference report for the Using Virtual Reality for Stakeholder Engagement conference back in July. Very insightful, including many comments and feedback from the event. This summary table outlines some of the key findings: 

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Benefits Drawba­cks Tradeoffs
­Appropriateness - May appeal to some participants who otherwise might not attend
- May be useful in instances where biases or limited abilities (such as for persons with physical disabilities) place constraints on effectively achieving engagement goals
- The idea of virtual worlds may be unappealing or have a residual negative connotation for some people (e.g., “gaming”)
- Technology can be overwhelming to some not used to it
Like other engagement techniques, virtual worlds may be appropriate for certain proportion of stakeholders
Effectiveness Provides an immersive, collaborative experience to the degree that in-person, telephone conference calls and web-enabled meetings cannot Requires computer that meets systems requirements and high-speed internet; some organizational firewalls also may block access Requires some willingness by stakeholders to learn how to use / navigate in virtual worlds (orientation sessions are suggested)
Efficiency - Provides opportunities for participants to have experiences that otherwise might be too costly or difficult / dangerous
- Costs of using virtual worlds can be very low and other hosts in-world are often willing to assist at no charge
Creating your own “island” or space in virtual worlds can be costly - Organization / host must invest time and effort to first understand the potential applicability and acquire the capabilities needed for virtual worlds in order to create a successful immersive experience for participants
- Networking with other organizations in-world is key for locating free or lowcost spaces available for use in virtual worlds

­To access the full report, go to the Public Decisions website >>

Technology Hype Cycle

Gartner Inc. recently released their 2009 Hype Cycle Report. The report is a comparative tool for risk judgment which and looks at over 1,500 technologies and nearly 80 tech sectors. Among the data points mapped on the cycle are public virtual worlds, an area which Gartner thinks is nearing an inflection point as a technology: virtual worlds, says Gartner, are close to owning the basement of the hype cycle, bottoming out in the dire-sounding Trough of Disillusionment. But, "looking at real benefit, rather than the hyped expectations, we see a number of potentially transformational technologies that will hit the mainstream in less than five years, including Web 2.0, cloud computing, Internet TV, virtual worlds and service-oriented architecture".


Second Life for Stakeholder Conference Recap

stkhdr_tableRezLibris has a great report about our Stakeholder Engagement conference in Second Life last month: 

...Most of the conference was held on Squirrel Island, Learning Times' sim. After a brief introduction by Corwin Howlett, the conference facilitator,Wiglaf Kukulcan (Chris Haller in real life; Public Agenda) led five avatars in a demonstration of an e-deliberation on global warming. "A deliberation differs from a debate in that it keeps people's minds open to different options rather than trying to persuade or pointing out pros and cons of a viewpoint," explained Kukulcan. During the virtual deliberation some SL tools such as group IM, personal IM and local chat were used to facilitate polling and discussions. At the end of the deliberation each of the five participants were asked how a virtual deliberation compared to a real life deliberation. Buffy Beale said, "it doesn't feel different... not quite as nervewracking not seeing eveyone in person. It feels very involved and engaged but maybe not as nervous. SL is fantastic and a really good tool for communications." The other participants echoed Buffy's feelings that it was more relaxed but otherwise similar to real life deliberation...

Read the full Conference Report >>

Promising Practices in Online Engagement

Exciting news, we just released our new report on Promising Practices in Online Engagement: The Internet's revolutionary impact on information-sharing and network-building is having an increasingly powerful impact on public life. So far, the deliberative democratic potential of the medium has been less fully explored than has its application to electoral and interest group politics. This report highlights multiple approaches to how the Internet can help build capacity and momentum for inclusive, collaborative and boundary-crossing problem-solving, both locally and at the national level.

Read the full report >>

Tool Tip:

logoThis one is on a personal note. We are in the process of putting together an exciting Twitter add-on called GuerrillaTweets and are looking for beta testers. 

GuerillaTweets is a powerful mobile marketing solution that extends Twitter by making Tweets accessible via SMS. With GuerillaTweets, you can promote your products, services, or events to more people by making your posts instantly available to anyone with a cell phone. No Twitter subscriptions or smartphones required - just a simple text code and easy-to-remember keyword is all they need to get your latest update, anytime, anywhere.

Building Social Media Infrastructure to Engage Publics: Twitter Vote Report

pmfr2Great in-depth analysis of Twitter Vote Report, the first election monitoring of its kind:

This field report traces how a committed group of volunteers harnessed the micro-blogging tool Twitter to create innovative public media 2.0 experiments—first to actively engage users to report on their voting experiences in the 2008 U.S. election, and then to document their experiences of the 2009 presidential inauguration. Along the way, these two projects demonstrated how journalists and advocates can effectively leverage a range of both commercial and open source social media tools to organize, publicize and implement citizen reporting projects, creating infrastructure for related future projects. Organizers have since worked to archive and repurpose the code and collaboration materials from these efforts for use in 2009 election monitoring initiatives in India and Iran.

Read the full report >>

We also feature this case study in our upcoming paper "Promising Practices for Online Engagement". 

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