Citizen Interaction Design (CID), as part of the Initiative for Information Impact, partners the local government of Jackson, Michigan with University of Michigan student teams. Together, the goal is to develop new information tools that will help to revolutionize citizen engagement.
This initiative seeks to engage UMSI students in civic engagement learning opportunities through the creation of new information tools and services in local communities. The school is seeking to partner with the Michigan community of Jackson to provide both context and mentorship for students engaged in these projects. The intention is to form a relationship with the overall community, rather than with single organizations. We are fundamentally interested in changing how citizens engage with their local governments and non-profit organizations through the design and implementation of new tools.
Public Participation in Master Planning
I worked with two School of Information students, Jashanjit Kaur and Jumana Almahmoud, to assist the City of Jackson, Michigan and Beckett & Raeder with their Master Plan Public Involvement.
From our interviews and research, we found two key barriers to citizen engagement in master planning in Jackson, MI. First, citizens do not understand the master plan and why they should participate. Second, the cost of participation is very high (attending meetings and design charrettes).
The solution is also two-fold. Step one is to create an educational campaign.
Through talking with city officials and citizens, we learned that they are unaware of the existing conditions of the city, such as the severity of poverty rates and population decline within the city. They also did not fully understand what a master plan is and that the city is in the process of updating and “overhauling” the current plan. Thus, our first solution aims at raising awareness of this process as well as the need for it.
We found out that it is important to start an offline campaign to do this, so we have created an infographic poster to explain the process: who is involved in it, why it is relevant to citizens, and most importantly, how they can participate. Our infographic will be placed strategically at key spots in the city, as well as available online.
To increase distribution of the infographic, we have also created 4 by 6 inch cards to hand out at the end of public meetings with the most relevant information so citizens can continue the discussions from the public meetings online, as well as easily share information about the process with their friends, family, and neighbors.
Step two of our solution is to increase citizen engagement outside of public meetings.
To do this, we are integrating a question and answer web page on the existing Jackson Master Plan website.
How citizens can currently participate in the master planning process is by attending one of 6 public meetings in each ward that last about an hour and a half. Here, residents are divided into groups and asked to brainstorm what some of Jackson’s assets, as well as problems, are. At the end of the meeting, everyone goes home and the conversation typically ends there for them.
We want to continue this conversation well past that hour and a half, so we created an online forum.
The forum web page is designed to be simplistic and easy to understand without having much familiarity with online forums. All entries are on one page, you can preview the posted questions, and there are sidebar updates to let you know who has recently posted and commented on the site.
To post a question, citizens first write the question and tag with subject it falls under. They then must enter their name as well as their affiliation with the city. If they wish to be notified by email once their question is answered, then they must also submit that information.
Finally, this is what the web page would look like after the question has been submitted and the planner has answered it. Below the planner’s answer, other residents are able to join in on the conversation, as well as rate the importance or relevance of the question.