One of the issues I care a lot about is public engagement and ensuring Edmonton is open, transparent, and accountable to citizens. During the 2013 Municipal Election, the topic of public engagement came up frequently enough that it made quite an impression on most of the Councillors who were elected. I thought it would be useful to hear from Ward 12 candidates on this important issue.
I sent a survey to all candidates last week asking for their views on Edmonton as an open, transparent, accountable, and engaged city. Each of those topics is broad, so I decided to anchor each with a specific initiative – the Open City Initiative for open, the Open Data Catalogue for transparent, the Citizen Dashboard for accountable, and the Council Initiative on Public Engagement for engaged.
For each section, I asked three similar questions:
- Before today, were you familiar with the initiative?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the topic/initiative
- What are your thoughts on the initiative/topic?
Out of 31 candidates, 14 responded to the survey: Jason Bale, Moe Banga, Danisha Bhaloo, Victor Viorel Bujor, Nick Chamchuk, Irfan Chaudhry, Jag Gill, Lincoln Ho, Nav Kaur, Rory Koopmans, Rakesh Patel, Nicole Szymanowka, Laura Thibert, and Stephen Wutzke. You can view all the responses here.
I expected a lot of “yes” responses to the question about being familiar with a given initiative, and that’s what I got. After all, what candidate wants to admit they don’t know about something? Though a few did suggest that maybe the City hasn’t done enough to market or promote the initiatives, and that’s a fair point.
On the rating of each topic, I decided to adopt a Net Promoter Score-type approach to the results, primarily to help group the data. Here’s the overview:
As you can see, candidates feel the City is doing well on being accountable whereas they feel there is clearly room for improvement on public engagement practices.
Below is the preamble I included for each section, and a selection of candidate responses, edited for length. Again, you can view all the responses in full here.
Open City Initiative
Edmonton has an Open City Initiative, described as follows: “Edmonton is aspiring to fulfill its role as a preeminent global city: innovative, inclusive and engaged. Building such a city takes foresight, planning and active participation by its citizens. A great city is an open city.” You can learn more about the Open City Initiative here.
What are your thoughts on the Open City Initiative and/or on Edmonton being a more open city? Here are some of their responses (edited for length):
“This is an excellent initiative for not only the citizens of Edmonton but it also focuses on the City employees. I think the opportunity is offered to all of us if we want to be the recipient of extensive information available in the operation of the City. It certainly allows for transparency.”
“I like freedom of information, but know all about VOIP laws, it’ll be tough to implement. I think info should be available to anyone, easily obtained. I think in most cases, transparency is a myth, a buzzword by people who are not transparent. This is a noble endaevor that I would support as Ward 12 Councilor.”
“I like the fact that the City of Edmonton has opened up access to data for residents to learn more about issues that impact our lives. My biggest critique with this, however, is that it is not very accessible to those who do not have familiarity with pulling data and analyzing it though various stats programs. I would like to build on the Open City initiative and find ways of making it more accessible for residents to use in order to assist community leagues and residents in being informed.”
“The Open City Initiative is an excellent program for the citizens of Edmonton. I believe we are ranked number one among all Canadian municipalities when it comes to open initiatives. There is room for improvement, like increasing public awareness that we have an open initiative programs.”
“I believe strongly in open and transparent government, as well as open data. It is wonderful that all of this has been and continues to be made available to Edmontonians. That said, I believe [some] aspects of the initiative can be improved. Without attention to accessibility, communication, and focus of the work, the Open City initiative runs the risk of being limited in its scope and effectiveness, as it would only reach a limited audience.”
“It’s a good idea. I like the idea of letting people give their feedback. I do not think they are hearing from everyone. This social media initiative only targets a very small number of people and won’t give an accurate view of what the overall population really think. It will take time before we start hearing from the majority. I sincerely hope that when the silent majority become vocal the city won’t simply dismiss what they have to say when they realize most of us want energy sector jobs, elbow room, and a place to park a truck.”
Open Data Catalogue
As part of its Open City Initiative, the City of Edmonton has made hundreds of datasets available for free to anyone via its Open Data Catalogue. You can learn more about the Open Data Catalogue here and you can see all of the datasets available here.
What are your thoughts on the Open Data Catalogue and/or on being transparent and open to citizens? Here are some of their responses (edited for length):
“Open data is great, though I’m not too sure how many people are aware of it.”
“It is a good opportunity for Edmontonians to participate in data analysis in new ways that we can take advantage of as a city for sourcing creative and unique ways of looking at how we do business as a city.”
“Its a rigged catalogue from what I can see, the questions are rigged to fit the progressive vision of Mayor Iveson & make Edmontonians even poorer.”
“Data has no meaning unless there are professionals to interpret and provide recommendations and trends based on the data. City’s red tape does not allow professionals to enter the fray.”
“I think anything the city can do to be more open and transparent to the citizens of Edmonton is a great initiative. Independent analysis of information allows for a different perspectives of city issues. This initiative can assist in working with and for community members to improve city services and to get the best value for our tax dollars. The Open Data Catalogue allows citizens to have an open dialogue with Councillors on particular issues with facts. As a Councillor, I will work with administration to continually add data to the Open Data Catalogue.”
“The city has done a great job with the open data catalogue and synthesized the information in a way that is easy to understand by the general public. This initiative brought a lot of information together into 1 place where it can be found and I personally think it does a great job of providing essential information that citizens should be aware of.”
Building upon the information available in the Open Data Catalogue, the City of Edmonton has built a Citizen Dashboard that provides performance metrics against various goals identified in The Way Ahead, the City’s Strategic Plan. You can learn more about the Citizen Dashboard here, and you can see the dashboard in action here.
What are your thoughts on the Citizen Dashboard and/or on being accountable to citizens? Here are some of their responses (edited for length):
“I use the dashboard. I do not like the UI, but I don’t have suggestions for anything better. We need to be accountable to citizens and this is a great tool to do so.”
“I work for the City of Edmonton and did not realize such a tool was available. This is great and should be more widely known about. Again, I think a “how to” video might be helpful for users t understand how the data can be interpreted. Something very high level where when a user comes to the site, they know what the figures mean.”
“This is my favorite feature of the open city initiative. Very easy to use and informative for a wide range of data. Could use some improvement like the CPI should be compared to the national average and to other municipalities.”
“It is fantastic that the City has developed a tool that shows how they can be more accountable to citizens and has been intentional in making a simple-to-use and plain language tool. With everything from the number of potholes filled to the City’s current greenhouse gas emissions, this dashboard provides citizens with a wealth of information about our city. Again, my questions about this particular tool are who is using it, and how often they access the data. The average citizen of Edmonton is not aware that the Citizen Dashboard exists. This needs to be improved upon. The City should absolutely be held to account by citizens, and this data source provides the opportunity to do so.”
“It is a pity that the city officials are wasting tax payers’ money in efforts like tabulating how many pets are returned to owners? This is ridiculous. This is the time to work towards new investments. To create and safeguard jobs. To hire efficient professionals. Citizen dashboard in the present form is just a westage of time and money.”
“Livability is missing a section to discuss green space. What used to make this city special was the large volume of green space. We were on of the top cities in Canada for green space per capita. What I’m seeing today is that the city is ripping down our green space and giving the rest to dogs.”
Improving public engagement was identified as a key area of focus for both City Council and City Administration following the 2013 Municipal Election. That has led to the creation of the Council Initiative on Public Engagement, a collaborative effort to define and implement public engagement strategies. You can learn more about the initiative here.
What are your thoughts on improving public engagement in Edmonton? Here are some of their responses (edited for length):
“There are many tools available to us that we currently do not use to reach out to citizens. We have opportunities to get this and it appears to me that we are still using old methods that don’t work in a modern environment. We need to go to the people, where they are, instead of asking them to come to us on our schedule. So I think we could be doing this very differently, more cost effectively, and with more community buy-in if we try some new ideas in public engagement.”
“I know the City of Edmonton is committed to public engagement. But we have to do it effectively and in meaningful ways. The Office of Public Engagement, for example, provides useful resources on how to publicly engage, however, they do not provide direct public engagement for city departments. To me, this is a huge gap. It is unrealistic to put the onus on separate departments to conduct community engagement sessions without the needed time and/or expertise. I would like to see how we can empower the Office of Public Engagement to provide this service to other city departments.”
“When thinking about engagement and including the people who live in Edmonton in the decision making processes that affect our lives, we need to think about the systemic barriers that limit people’s engagement in the first place. As a community organizer who has lived in Ward 12 all my life, I have a detailed understanding of the population that calls the ward home and how it has been changing over the last several decades.”
“Frankly the way council takes in citizen input is a joke as they already do everything pre ordained behind closed doors.”
“I know the city hosts public engagement and consultation forums all over the city all the time. However, based on my experience attending some of these, it’s a waste of time. They make the citizen FEEL engaged, but change doesn’t happen. That’s the disconnect that needs to be addressed.”
“I believe community engagement is critical to the role of city Councillor. It is important that we find different avenues to encourage community engagement, such making it easier to respond to on-line surveys. In addition to engaging the community with the initial consultation, it is vital that Councillors and city officials follow up with the community with the outcomes of the consultation.”
“I would like to see public engagement higher overall in Edmonton. Especially on gathering ideas and feedback before decisions are made instead of gathering reactions to decisions that were made.”
I also gave candidates the opportunity to share any other thoughts they might have at the end of the survey. Here are some of their responses (edited for length):
“This is my home and my community. I will work to make it a thriving, vibrant part of Edmonton. I have the experience, I have the drive and I have the commitment needed to properly represent your needs on City Council. My track record proves that I am a person who gets things done.”
“As our city demographics change, we need to make sure our ways of reaching out are suitable to our population, that includes age, background and level of technology use. We also should engage different community leaders to be part of the conversations around how best to reach out to their communities in meaningful ways, including being aware of language barriers and cultural norms. We need to be as diverse in how we connect with Edmontonians to reflect the diversity of Edmontonians themselves.”
“I think if politicians, and wanna-be’s lied less, the public would like them more, leading the way for progress, with these initiatives.”
“While open data and engagement are great initiatives for the youth, it doesn’t capture the snapshot of the entire population nor its actual needs. Data can easily be manipulated and misinterpreted, so users and people who receive information from those who use open data need to understand that. Otherwise, it’s a great initiative other cities should follow.”
“Increasing property taxes should be the last resort but over the past decade, this has not been the case. My platform is logical though revolutionary and this is how I stand out from my esteemed prospective candidates. I advocate for lowering property taxes. I believe in developing new sources of revenue generation. I will be a change agent to bring new investments and re-brand the city; and be instrumental in re-naming our city as the ‘City of Champions’.”
“I personally have noticed and followed Edmonton’s effort in the past decade to modernize it’s image and create a lively, modern, livable city. We are slowly building a stronger and greater city everyday. All these initiatives are central to that movement, now lets get everyone on board.”
“What made Edmonton special was it’s green space and by destroying that we are destroying Edmonton. Many large cities have made efforts to protect the feel of wide open spaces. We have engineered congestion and that needs to stop. Green space and elbow room were what made this city special and we need to recover that.”
Thank you to all candidates who responded, and good luck on Monday!