Go ahead – Bang The Table

By Cecilia Nasmith

Cobourg council's focus on public engagement should hit a new level with the new public-engagement software called Bang The Table.

Communications manager Ashley Purdy lobbied for this during budget deliberations, and she appeared at this week's committee-of-the-whole meeting of council with Bang The Table representative Dan Keane to explain how it will work.

More than 150 communities across Canada (some as close as Peterborough and Port Hope) are taking this approach, Keane said.

“It started in Australia 10 years ago, when a city planner and his department were sick and tired of three people turning out for council meetings,” he recounted.

“This will never replace the hard work you are doing face-to-face, but what it will do is form a strong on-line partnership. It's a great tool to inform and educate the community.”

Keane illustrated with the system now in place in Burlington. Known as Get Involved Burlington, it was introduced with a call to action saying it was an improvement on Facebook and Twitter engagements, conveying input directly to council as they made their decision.

“It's where you go to learn about flood management, it's where you go to learn about cannabis, it's where you go to learn about backyard chicken coops, it's where you go to learn about strategic planning.”

It's attractively arranged with minimal wording, beautiful photos, timelines of key dates and easy-to-understand graphics and images. And it's easy to use by anyone of any age.

Key features include timely response, the option to give feedback anonymously and continuous monitoring for things like bad language, name dropping and going off-topic.

The monitoring is done both by machine and by human employees (“a lot of single moms at home with iPads”)

“Everything is measured on this site, so municipalities can benchmark how they are doing in terms of public engagement,” Keane said.

It's a strong combination of strategic communications and public-engagement planning that can build stronger and more trusting communities, Purdy said.