By You City: Houston’s Online Home for Civic Engagement

Houston is often referred to the Bayou City, due largely in part to the 19 streams that run throughout the city and the Houston Ship Channel. Houston is on a tremendous growth trajectory, with 26% growth since 2000; it is the fourth largest city in the U.S. and spans more than 655 square miles. Houston is also considered the most diverse city in the U.S., with more than 90 languages spoken, a hispanic population that will soon become the majority, and a vibrant immigrant community. Because the face of Houston has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, it is all the more important and challenging to effectively engage the large population, which is expected to grow by another million in the next 20 years.

In an effort to engage the Bayou City’s fast growing population for feedback, the City of Houston launched the yearlong project “designed to create a visionary roadmap to accommodate monumental growth.” The site will be used a “a touch point to the community for feedback, opinions, and guidance.” The information on the platform largely centers around arts and culture, neighborhood enhancement, and parks and recreation and is hosted by mindmixer.com.

The platform is divided into three areas: topics, activity, and about. The “leaders” on the platform posing questions are those in local government: from the city planning office, the arts and culture chair, and mayor’s assistant for cultural affairs. The leaders pose questions on the platform such as: “What would encourage you to participate in more arts and culture activities than you do now?” “If you were in charge, what would you change about the arts and culture plan in Houston?” and “What is your favorite event in Houston?”

Users can do several things through the site, such as:

  • Answer surveys
  • Answer polls
  • Provide feedback
  • Create budgets
  • Interact with decision makers
  • Add an idea
  • Pin a map

The site incentivizes user engagement through the rewards store, where users get points for how often they post and for even joining the site. Points can be redeemed in the rewards store for items such as tickets to a baseball game,

Users earn points by posting on the site that can be used back in the reward store for things like tickets to a baseball game. According to the site, it’s had 7,865 visitors since it’s creation less than a year ago. The number is not bad, but when you consider that Houston has 2.3 million residents, it’s a rather small drop in the bucket.

With a new mayor on the way in November 2015, there are significant ways that the city can bolster it’s online presence, seeking to engage the large community in more meaningful and substantive ways.

The platform can be found here: http://feedback.houstontx.gov/

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