The City of Santa Cruz Goes Online for Public Ideas

Video courtesy of Web 2.0 ExpoSF-’09 and O’Reilly Media.

Peter Koht of the City of Santa Cruz, CA, describes the city’s online method for gathering public ideas about how to handle a severe budget crisis. The platform is uservoice. Similar to the IdeaScale system used in the White House Open Government Initiative, it allows users to write in ideas that other participants can comment and vote on.

As Hoht mentions in his narration, the customary face-to-face public meetings tend to be dominated by those with the most extreme positions. To prevent that problem, the City requires a minimum of 60 votes for a proposal to be accepted for consideration by the administration. The forum page for entering ideas is here. The City also provides background information on the budget crisis, comments by the Mayor and other officials and regular updates on the latest developments.

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2 Responses to “ The City of Santa Cruz Goes Online for Public Ideas ”

  1. John,

    Good of you to share this video. I wasn’t familiar with uservoice. Platforms like that are definitely an interesting way for Municipalities to get public input/ideas. What do you think about the 8% participation rate mentioned in the video – is that enough for a Municipality to move forward on?

    I also wonder what the demographics of the responders are. Is a representative portion of the public being reached online?

  2. Hi, Ben –

    I think 8% is a good participation rate in general – that’s about 1 in 12 – if you compare that to the number of people who would show up at public meetings. And those meetings, which tend as Koht says to be dominated by extreme views, are generally not conducive to the presentation of policy proposals by anyone outside the activist groups. But you raise a good question about moving ahead for adoption of suggestions about something as important as a budget crisis. However, since the city manager and city council do the ultimate review and decision-making, the new policies go back to the chartered representative process. The online system doesn’t replace that – something that’s true of all public participation and collaborative policy processes. I don’t know the demographic spread – another key issue – but I’ll see if they have a way of tracking that. I believe the sign-up info is too limited for that.

    Thanks for your comment.

    John