Okotoks builds consensus and a better environmental master plan
When the Town of Okotoks set out to create its new Environmental Master Plan, the team knew they needed a better way to engage their community. In-person meetings, traditional online surveys and consultants weren’t cutting it—particularly with younger residents and families. They chose Ethelo as the best platform to meet their engagement goals because it combines the dialogue of a face-to-face meeting with the convenience of an online platform and the ability to learn where people agree and disagree quickly. With Ethelo, the Town heard more from traditionally underrepresented demographics and found a clear consensus on several items for their Master Plan. They also discovered new ideas put forward by the community that got broad support in their Ethelo engagement.
Target Demographic Reached
Building consensus and a better Environmental Master Plan
When the Town of Okotoks set out to create their new Environmental Master Plan, they knew they needed to ramp up civic engagement by hearing from more people in their community.
They particularly wanted to hear from younger residents and families, who can be particularly hard to reach with traditional in-person meetings due to family responsibilities and long commutes to Calgary for work.
Joan Botkin, Communications Manager for the Town of Okotoks, said her team was tired of trying something different every time they hired a consultant to manage an engagement. She wanted an online platform that everyone could easily use that would also provide the results they needed.
“We wanted to choose something that we could use for another project such as budget planning, down the road,” Botkin says. “If we have something that we’re all comfortable with, then it makes things faster and more efficient for us, and our public then understands how to use the tool as well.”
She and her colleague, Communications Specialist Marni Hutchinson, chose Ethelo as their community engagement platform because it combined the dialogue of a face-to-face engagement with the convenience of an online platform. They also liked the real-time feedback capability that let residents see the conversation unfolding as it happened.
Delivering a customized experience
Botkin and Hutchinson worked with the Ethelo team to design an online engagement that met the Town’s unique needs.
They needed to capture responses on a wide range of issues and give residents enough background to make an informed decision—without overwhelming them with information.
To drive high participation and ensure they heard from the most diverse group of people possible, they decided to keep their Ethelo engagement anonymous by allowing people to join without registering.
“We wanted to bring people out of the woodwork to have a conversation on the cyber street and see what their neighbours are saying,” Botkin explains. “From our perspective, we know who our influencers are because we hear from them all the time, but we don’t know how other people in the community feel.”
One challenge with any environmental-related consultation is the potential for people to share misinformation. Ethelo gave Botkin and Hutchinson the ability to monitor the comments coming in and clarify if something posted was factually incorrect.
The Ethelo team also helped moderate comments throughout the engagement and stepped in to remove one that contained profanity.
The Town’s Environmental Master Plan consultation focused on five areas: renewable energy, transportation, green infrastructure, urban design, and waste systems. Residents got information about each area that helped them learn more about it. Then Ethelo let them share how much they supported each one.
Building understanding and consensus
From the perspective of decision-making, Ethelo’s algorithm gave the Town of Okotoks some clear insights into the importance of various issues for the community. Many of the topics received more than 75 percent approval from residents, which helped staff decide which items to include in the master plan.
More than half the Ethelo participants were between the ages of 30 and 49, hitting the mark for the Town’s goal of engaging its younger residents. Including more people from this demographic in the engagement also helped surface some new ideas that got support.
For example, several residents mentioned the idea of a bike share, which the Town had been considering, and it received support within the comments section. The Town has incorporated it into the Environmental Master Plan.“
“Ethelo offers a different opportunity in terms of allowing a conversation to happen online,” Hutchinson says. “We can see the general consensus as it’s forming and participants have more opportunities to see different perspectives.”
Botkin also sees Ethelo as an excellent tool for helping the community understand the budget constraints various projects face and how those impact resident expectations.
“It will be a great tool to use on projects that have a set budget in terms of identifying where people want their money to go and the constraints that come with that,” she says. “For example, if we are designing a park and people want a fancy swing set, then they don’t get the climbing structure. Those are the trade-offs we need to help people understand.”
Botkin and Hutchinson added that they appreciated the support they got from the Ethelo team with everything from setup to reporting and analytics.
“Having that kind of support is key,” Hutchinson said. “Oftentimes, vendors will say they can provide that level of support but don’t actually follow through. But that was not the case with Ethelo.”