OpenGov could take time to see citizen response


May 17, 2018

The Haines Borough Assembly last week narrowly approved purchasing a $40,000 software program aimed at increasing citizen engagement, but the assembly may take up the issue again. The CVN reached out to two similarly sized communities using the software to see how it’s working in their towns.

The “Citizen Engagement” program from the tech company OpenGov allows users to submit feedback and comments on municipal issues online. The borough can create surveys to reach out to the community for input on any number of issues. Data is charted in graphs and can be analyzed demographically.

Phillip Puckett, town administrator for Buena Vista, Colorado said they’ve had the program running for about one year. He said the engagement tool is useful and that it’s nice to make municipal issues more visible, but he hasn’t seen much engagement from the community.

“Unfortunately, until you try it, it’s hard to know for sure,” Puckett said. “Each community is different. If you ask me right now if we’ve reached that return on investment, I’d say ‘Not quite yet.’ I think we’ll see during the next six to 12 months.”

Austin Gilley, city manager in Abilene, Kansas, said the municipality recently purchased the software, but they haven’t yet launched the program. He did use it in a previous town where he worked.

“In prior experience, it increased civic engagement by providing an outlet for people who don’t ordinarily provide feedback at public meetings or phone calls or office visits to officials,” Gilley said. “It does take some time and effort to build interest and trust.”

Besides the initial $40,000 investment, it would cost the borough an additional $20,000 annually to keep the software running.

Borough manager Debra Schnabel has supported the software and included it in her proposed budget. Assembly members who have expressed opposition to buying the software, Tom Morphet, Tresham Gregg and Stephanie Scott, cited concerns about cost and lack of interest from the public. Face-to-face engagement was more valuable, they said.

The rest of the assembly members and Mayor Jan Hill, who broke the tie vote to purchase the software, said they want to give it a try. Assembly members Brenda Josephson and Sean Maidy said it could increase engagement from young people.The public can comment on the software purchase as the assembly considers the draft budget in upcoming meetings.


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