City of Vancouver turns to Facebook app for public input on transportation plans

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      The City of Vancouver is giving residents and commuters the opportunity to share their ideas on transportation planning—on Facebook.

      People aged 18 and older can sign up to participate by registering with the Exploring Vancouver’s Transportation Future app by May 31.

      The Facebook app is a partnership between city hall and Greenest City Conversations, a research project based at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University.

      Susanna Haas Lyons, a UBC master’s student who’s the co-investigator for the project, told the Straight the app—built by Washington, D.C.-based Fission Strategy—is probably the first of its kind in the world.

      Haas Lyons noted Facebook offers an ideal platform for public consultation because people already spend a lot of time on the social-networking website, even if much of that time might be devoted to looking at pictures of friends and funny stuff.

      “What we’re trying to do is create opportunities for civic space in Facebook, where you can spend some time laughing and connecting but also spend a little bit of time learning about the issues in your community and having a chance to influence the policy that affects your life,” she said by Internet phone from her home in Vancouver.

      Haas Lyons is hoping 500 to 800 people will join the app.

      After the sign-up period ends, participants will be divided into small private discussion groups, which will run for two weeks, until June 14.

      The groups will go through a series of discussion questions—for example, “How do you travel around Vancouver?”—to build relationships among members and share their experiences.

      Then they’ll look at key transportation issues through lenses such as the economy, environment, and equity; examine previously proposed ideas; and suggest new ones.

      Eventually, facilitators will encourage the groups to narrow down their proposals to the best.

      Starting June 15, the public will have a week to view those ideas and response to them on Facebook.

      According to Haas Lyons, Exploring Vancouver’s Transportation Future will be different from other online discussions, which often see people just post their preformed opinions and leave.

      “The intention behind this app is to borrow from some of the best practices of face-to-face public involvement in policy, in order to re-create that kind of a space where people are getting together over time, learning from each other,” Haas Lyons said.

      The results of the Facebook consultation will help inform work on the city’s new transportation plan, which will set the direction until 2040.

      A draft plan is expected to be released for public feedback in early 2012.

      You can follow Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.

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      1 Comments

      Greenest City Conversations

      May 22, 2011 at 4:33pm

      Thanks for writing about our project! This Facebook conversation is an important chance for residents and commuters to plan our city's long term Transportation future - safety, public transit, traffic, to bike lane or not to bike lane, it's all there!

      Hope to see everyone by May 31 at http://apps.Facebook.com/VanTransportFuture