Newton, Massachusetts Civic Engagement Study
- General Issues
- Planning & Development
- Specific Topics
- Citizenship & Role of Citizens
- Weather Forecasting
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
- Spectrum of Public Participation
- Total Number of Participants
- Open to All or Limited to Some?
- Open to All
- Facilitator Training
- Professional Facilitators
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Types of Interaction Among Participants
- No Interaction Among Participants
- Decision Methods
- Opinion Survey
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- New Media
- Traditional Media
- Public Hearings/Meetings
Problems and Purpose
On January 24th 2018, City Councilor Emily Norton of Newton, Massachusetts engaged her constituents in an online poll via Involved, a civic engagement tool for government representatives and advocacy organizations.
The goal of the process was to increase civic engagement by polling directly online, optimizing for constituent convenience. The organizer used three approaches to gather constituent input. The approaches were interactive email, mobile application, and html link. The representative's communication channels to share the poll were email list, social media account (Twitter, Facebook), and mobile application (Involved). The question was comprised of five sections:
Poll question: (written by Councilor Norton) Should residents be held responsible for clearing snow from their sidewalks?
Background information: (written by Councilor Norton) "Greetings, I am experimenting with a new program and I hope you'll give it a whirl! I want to know what you think about the best way to tackle sidewalk snow removal. The status quo is not acceptable, in which too many sidewalks don't get cleared, leaving pedestrians including children and the elderly walking in the streets. One option is to continue to hold residents responsible for clearing snow from their sidewalks, but start issuing $25 fines to those who do not comply. Another option is to have the City take over the responsibility for clearing sidewalks, though that would be a cost increase that would have to be passed along to taxpayers. Do you favor one of those? If not, what other solutions do you suggest?"
Poll options: (written by Councilor Norton):
• Residents are responsible (status quo)
• Residents are responsible with fine
• City is responsible with increased cost
Verification: Constituents registered their email with their physical address to verify their residency.
Background History and Context
The organizer traditionally uses email list, town hall, social media, events, and office hours to communicate with her constituents. This was her first time engaging with her constituents via Involved.
The poll asked constituents of the district (pop. 89,045) for their opinion on the local issue of sidewalk shoveling. The poll asked constituents if they preferred residents to be responsible (status quo), for residents to be responsible for a fine, or for the city to be responsible with an increased cost. The representative shared the question with her personal email list and her social media channels. To this date (05/03/2018), the poll has received 603 responses from verified constituents. Nearly all responses were received within the first 48 hours of the poll being posted. Residents responded via email, mobile application, or html link. Via email, the question received a unique open rate of 69% and a unique click rate of 31%.
City Councilor Emily Norton wanted to gather community opinion on the local issue of sidewalk snow removal in the town of Newton, Massachuetts, USA. On January 24th 2018 Councilor Norton posted the poll to her community, via online channels. Emily Norton is a Councilor at Large for Ward 2. Councilor Norton's current board committee assignments include Public Facilities and Finance. She was first elected into the Newton City Council in 2013.
On April 19th 2018, Councilor Norton posted a testimonial to her Twitter page: "This new service created by recent Boston University grads is great! I had a great response from my first survey on sidewalk snow plowing, will be sending out another one soon."
Poll Launch: 01/24/2018
Poll Close: Ongoing
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Newton City Councilor Emily Norton (Government Entity)
Involved (Polling Tool)
The polling committee distributed this poll at a total cost of $0.00.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
This survey was open to all constituents of Newton, Massachusetts, USA via Newton City Council. Constituents verified their residency via physical address upon answering the poll. Self-selection assumption: original recepients of poll were followers of Councilor Norton via email list or social media account. However, the poll was shared (html link, email) by this base of respondents with other constituents of Newton. At this time, Councilor Norton's next poll will be sent to the 603 constituents that participated in previous polls. This poll remains open to constituents of Newton, Massachuetts.
Methods and Tools Used
Councilor Norton shared the poll (via Involved Representative Interface) with her email list and social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook). The poll was shared by constituents with fellow Newton constituents via email or html link. This created an organic growth that allowed the open rate to reach 164%.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
Deliberation: Emily Norton, Newton City Council
Public Interaction: Online
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Poll results: 603 constituent responses.
Should Residents Be Held Responsible For Clearing Snow From Their Sidewalk?
Residents are responsible with a fine: 54.06%
City is responsible with increased cost: 23.88%
Residents are responsible (status quo): 22.06%
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Newton constituents engaged with this poll well-above the current online engagement standards (unique open rate: 69%, unique click rate: 31%). According to industry experts, 0.5% - 5% is the 'standard' for unique click rates on political engagement emails.