Cities that want to jazz up their citizen interactions with social media tools, but have shoestring budgets to work with, should look to the City of Ottawa for inspiration.
In June, Ottawa introduced a social media site to engage citizens in city planning at earlier stages of the process, before expensive boondoggles develop.
Developed by Igloo Software, a social media platform provider based in Kitchener, Ont., the site was set up by a group of high-tech volunteers in just a few weeks, says Rob Collins, chairman of the City of Ottawa’s task force and former CIO of Cognos, a business intelligence vendor acquired by IBM this year.
“We went to the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and said, ‘We want to develop this site but we have no money – but you have a few bucks and you can use this as a forum to show off what your members can do. Igloo offered to put in the time and energy to help us.'”
The project is part of a larger initiative by the City of Ottawa to tap into its high-tech community to find ways to squeeze more benefits with the strategic use of technology, he adds.
Current city planning processes don’t encourage citizen involvement and are ripe for improvement with social media, he says. Citizens must travel to a specific meeting place at a particular time to comment on plans that have often already been cast in stone and are difficult to change. “You have to debate ideas long before they become firm plans,” says Collins.
With a social media site, citizens can provide input and voice concerns at their convenience anytime and anywhere they may be, he says.