Boulder County is exploring a new software system in hopes of increasing community engagement while maintaining fully virtual meetings.
“I think the interest is increasing the ways the public can participate outside of the live debates,” said Kim Sanchez, deputy director of community planning and licensing for Boulder County. “If someone was not able to attend a hearing at a specific time and date because there were work disputes, custody disputes or personal disputes, People Speak would allow him to listen to the presentation and provide his comments in the same way. information they would get in the live meeting without having to attend.
On Wednesday, Boulder County Community Planning & Permitting discussed online engagement software and presented their research to members of the Boulder County Planning Commission.
Anna Milner, chief administrative technician at Boulder County Community Planning & Permitting, said City of Lakewood officials worked with People Speak to design software that made holding public meetings more accessible and inclusive.
“The concept that we really hope to pursue is to provide a one-stop-shop for members of the public to review staff reports, staff presentations or candidate presentations if provided prior to the hearing, and then provide public comment on this platform and all public comments will also be hosted in one place, ”she said.
People Speak is based in Boulder and was created to help cities be more inclusive by allowing citizens to participate where and when they want to, according to the company’s website.
During the presentation, Milner showed members of the planning commission the data from Lakewood, who followed participation in the in-person public hearings. The study recorded participation rates over a year and found that about 80% of in-person participants were 55 and older. During the same period, the city also monitored online participation versus in-person presence and found that younger populations – those aged 25 to 55 – had a higher online participation rate. than in person, according to Lakewood’s presentation.
Planning Commission member Melanie Nieske said she was not surprised to see such a gap in engagement with younger populations. She looks forward to trying new tools or programs like People Speak to engage more community members.
“I think it’s exciting, and it’s something I was hoping to happen with everything we’ve learned from COVID and the adaptations we’ve had to make,” she said. “I think it makes sense to explore other ways to get people to engage better.”
Sanchez said the planning and authorization team has already presented the new engagement platform to other county councils. If it goes ahead with the purchase of People Speak or something similar, the software will be used for all Boulder County boards that have regular public meetings.
Right now, the county is still in the exploratory process and has no deadline for making the decision to switch to new software for public meetings, Sanchez said.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty about when we will return to the physical office and hold hearings in person rather than virtually, and we still have to make decisions on how to proceed in a hybrid fashion,” he said. she declared. “At the moment, we are in the exploration phase and we will continue to see how things go.”