Arlington County: City-Wide Feedback on Current Initiatives

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CiviComment

Case Study

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Arlington County uses CiviComment to facilitate general public document reviews for current project plans across the city. So far, the County has shared three initiatives for review, including a Master Plan Preliminary Draft on Public Spaces, the Arlington Childcare Initiative, and a Draft Four Mile Run Valley Policy Framework. The easy-to-use and widely accessible digital tool allows collection of public comments and ideas on a wide range of topics, all related to projects directly impacting those consulted through the review.

Project Configuration

  • Arlington County uses CiviComment to create a unique landing page, where interested participants can comment on current project plans and other relevant documents.
  • The app makes it easy for the public to review one or multiple initiatives and return to the site, by allowing the County to host all documents on one page under separate sections.
  • Participants can choose whether their comment is a suggestion, a question, or an answer, to make it easier for the County staff to address each comment.
  • Users leave their comments directly on top of the text it relates to, cutting down on the time it takes to track and process comments.
  • Commenting is made completely anonymous, fostering wider participation among the general public.
  • The upvoting, downvoting and response features available on each comment are widely used by the public and help to generate a conversation and engagement.

Outcomes

Between the 3 initial projects, the CiviComment app recorded nearly 600 comments from the public, demonstrating strong engagement and interest among participants in being part of the consultation process. With such a high volume of comments, CiviComment provides Arlington County with a much-needed tool to streamline their analysis, response, and integration. The app’s main features, such as exporting, sorting, and comment reporting, ensure that the teams responsible for the projects save valuable time and are able to evaluate each comment provided by the public.

Open Government Partnership: Non-profit Progress Reports

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CiviComment

Case Study

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The Open Government Partnership (OGP) works with governments of more than 70 countries to strengthen their commitment to transparency, anti-corruption, citizen empowerment and responsive governance. As part of the process, OGP utilizes the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) to evaluate each country’s progress towards their commitments on a regular basis. The IRM implements a public engagement mechanism, where each report is open for a two-week commenting period by the general public. Since the end of 2017, OGP has been using CiviComment to facilitate the commenting process. Some examples of reports include the OGP Scotland IRM Preliminary Review 2017 and the Serbia Mid-Term Report 2016-2018.

Project Configuration

  • Using the CiviComment App, OGP uploads relevant reports for each participating country or region for public commenting.
  • The OGP sets a 2-week deadline for commentators to evaluate each document and publish their comments, ensuring enough time for thorough document analysis, but also reasonable turnaround times.
  • Commentators have the choice to include their personal information or to comment on the documents anonymously, allowing for a broader range of participants.
  • Users leave their comments directly on top of the text it relates to, cutting down on the time it takes OGP to track and process comments.
  • To ensure international engagement, OGP publishes some of the reports with two available versions – one in English and one in the relevant local language.

Outcomes

CiviComment provides an easy-to-use platform, which has fostered higher public engagement with OGP and IRM reports. “The greatest advantage of CiviComment has been for commentators. We have seen more citizen uptake, because it is such an easy platform to use. Thus far, we have not received any questions or complaints from commentators and we have seen an increase in number of people engaged throughout the commenting process.” – Jessica Monaco, Website Manager at the Open Government Partnership.

The app allows OGP’s team to download comment reports in three different formats, in order to easily analyze the most pertinent information. CiviComment also provides the opportunity for the commenting process to be more inclusive, particularly due to language selection and the option to comment anywhere on the report.

City of Evanston: Proposed Development Projects Review

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CiviComment

Case Study

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The City of Evanston (The City) Planning and Zoning Division is tasked with reviewing all proposals and applications related to building development and zoning ordinance. As part of the process, the Division makes proposed development projects available for public review and commenting, to create transparency and to preserve the quality of life of Evanston residents.  

Project Configuration

  • Using the CiviComment app, the City of Evanston sets up a dedicated site for each planned development project up for review.
  • For ease-of-use by the public, The City uploads the entire application and supplemental documents to facilitate commenting on specific sections.
  • Additionally, participants can fill out a quick survey to provide their feedback on the project, focusing on specific areas of concern for The City.
  • To ensure transparency and reduce repetitive comments, The City makes all comments visible to the public, which fosters interaction with previous comments left by other participants through responses or up/down-voting.
  • Users wishing to comment must register an account on the platform. This enables swift follow-up if needed, and ensures civil discourse by asking users to accept terms and conditions of participation.
  • Users leave their comments directly on top of the text it relates to, cutting down on the time it takes to track and process comments.
  • The public has the option to stay up to date on the project through an email sign up feature.

Outcomes

CiviComment provides a streamlined process for the City of Evanston to gather and review public comments. Prior to using CiviComment, staff had to gather comments through e-mails and phone calls – a tedious and time-consuming task. “The main feature of document commenting is very useful. Being able to see specifically where there is a comment and then being able to see what documents have been commented on helps us to figure out where the biggest concerns are and what aspects of the projects need more attention or updating,” said Meagan Jones, Neighborhood and Land Use Planner, City of Evanston.

With the ability to quickly and easily create reports of comments from a single platform, CiviComment cuts down on the amount of time that staff spent on obtaining and organizing feedback. The flexibility of the software and dedicated support from CiviComment staff allows the City of Evanston to easily adjust features to create the best platform to provide information to the public and obtain feedback.

State of Hawaii Environmental Council: Updating Administrative Rules

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CiviComment

Case Study

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The Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC), part of the Hawaii Department of Health, is in the process of updating the Hawai’i Administrative Rules. According to state law, the Environmental Council must request feedback from affected agencies; however, going a step further, OEQC launched a public consultation on the update using the CiviComment app.

Project Configuration

  • OEQC shares each version of the updated Hawai’i Administrative Rules with the general public, using CiviComment.
  • Users can choose to comment anonymously or register and get access to additional features, including comment editing, deleting, upvoting and downvoting.
  • Users leave their comments directly on top of the text it relates to, cutting down on the time it takes OEQC to track and process comments.
  • The OEQC has the option to moderate comments, in order to ensure that all commenting is appropriate and respectful.
  • So far, the OEQC uploaded 4 iterations of the document, continuously updating the chapters based on comments received and re-submitting them for review.

Outcomes

The CiviComment app provides OEQC with a platform that is simple to manage and gives improved access for the public, due to its user friendly interface. “The setup and administration experience was great. Setup was simple and straightforward, and CiviComment staff promptly attended to any questions or functionality suggestions we had.” - said Zackary Stoddard, Planner at the Department of Planning and Permitting, Honolulu Government.

OEQC received 100s of comments, including suggestions on community involvement, potential risks as perceived by residents, concerns over environmental issues and general public support for the revision process. This reflects on an active engagement, beneficial for the project’s transparency, quality and implementation process.

California State Assembly: Review of the Lower Los Angeles River Revitalization Plan

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CiviComment

Case Study

In 2015, the California State Assembly adopted Bill 530, establishing a Working Group (WG) to develop the Lower Los Angeles (LA) River Revitalization Plan. The plan aims to revitalize 19 miles of the river to provide recreational opportunities, restore natural areas, and address any potential health, safety, financial, and other issues. As part of the drafting process, the WG utilized CiviComment to receive public opinion, particularly targeting area residents who will be affected by the revitalization. In this way, the WG looks to ensure public participation and the effectiveness of the project in the long-term.

Project Configuration

  • Using CiviComment, the WG set up a public commenting process, providing the opportunity to easily access each chapter as a separate document and comment directly online, in a unified location.
  • Participants needed to set up a username and password to enter the documents and view comments, making it easy for the WG to review and respond to comments.
  • Users leave their comments directly on top of the text it relates to, cutting down on the time it takes the WG to track and process comments.
  • One person was responsible for receiving all comments through the CiviComment app, reducing the stress and time of searching through forwarded e-mails with comments and ensuring that each comment can be easily attended to.
  • Commenting closed automatically on January 11, 2018, avoiding any past-due comments or having to reject comments that came in late.
  • The WG used the CiviComment CSV export feature, making organizing, formatting and tracking comments easy and fast.
  • The project included both English and Spanish versions of the Plan to ensure inclusive participation opportunities.

Outcomes

CiviComment helped streamline the commenting process and analysis, while also reducing the challenges related to collecting, copying, and formatting public comments.,The WG team estimates having saved 40-60 hours by using the app, whilst receiving upwards of two hundred comments from the public.

Since only one person received all of the comments and had a downloadable document, there was better quality control of comments received and incorporated. “CiviComment was a great way to track and receive comments from the public. This form of public comment submission should be the new status quo, providing clarity and transparency to all of the parties involved.” - Gina M Palino, Junior Water Resources Engineer at Tetra Tech.