One of UpShift’s North American clients - FLO Analytics - approached us about building a community engagement platform for their clients. That platform - FLO Engage - recently launched. Here’s its story, so far.

At UpShift we’re no strangers to community engagement. Four of us met in 2011 while working on community engagement projects for various local government organisations. 

One of the biggest challenges of community engagement is getting good quality feedback from a broad cross section of the target audience. We’ve experienced multiple situations where important community conversations were dominated by small vocal groups pushing their particular interests. 

For example, data projections may show the need for a transport corridor through an area. Polling the community for their feedback on the shape of a new transport corridor is an excellent idea. But how do we take physical location into consideration when asking for feedback? A well organised area with a strong voice may loudly campaign to remove traffic from their neighbourhood, at the expense of a neighbourhood which may not be as organised, vocal or well engaged. Collecting general community feedback runs the risk of having some voices sidelined or drowned out.

FLO Analytics provides GIS and data analytics to its clients to help them make informed decisions. An example could be creating demographic projections showing where families will live in the future and using that to plan additional schooling capacity. Their clients were also looking for ways to improve engagement with their communities about proposed changes

When FLO Analytics first approached UpShift about the project we could see how their data analysis could be used to improve and target engagement. It was exciting to be able to build on our previous community engagement experience with better data analysis.

Spatially mapping feedback on a map is just one of the ways data analysis can be combined with engagement to improve understanding of public opinion and community feedback. For the transport corridor example feedback could be weighted by the respondents distance from the planned project. 

FLO Analytics works with a number of different sectors including school districts, utility companies, local government, non-profits, and private businesses.  As we talked about different use cases it became clear we needed a very flexible platform that could handle different types of engagement, feedback and data integration. We also needed a pilot project to get the ball rolling.

A pilot project came to light in the form of the Central Valley School District (CVSD), in Spokane, Washington State. CSVD is in the process of building a new high school - Ridgeline High School - and wanted a way to communicate with students impacted by the zoning change and collect responses on school preferences. 

Working closely with FLO Analytics we designed and built a digital platform that could send individualised questions and gather individual responses. The underlying foundation of the platform is the creation and maintenance of incredibly flexible datasets. We can import data from any system and use that to build engagements based on the recipient’s individual situations.

It turned out the flexibility was tested early on. With Covid-19 disrupting schools CVSD needed a way to contact all of their parents/ students and get feedback on how the school community wanted the new school year to look under Covid-19 restrictions.

I’m pleased to say it has been a very successful pilot with excellent response rates helping to paint a picture of schooling under the new normal. The first engagement had a 89% response rate, which is incredibly high compared to the typical survey response rate of around 33%.

It was also a great example of how flexibility and engagement need to go hand-in-hand. If we’d developed a service that was only capable of assigning students to school zones it couldn’t have been used to respond to Covid-19.

We are currently planning phase 2 of development of FLO Engage - adding functionality, taking on user feedback and looking at ways the platform could be used by other organisations.

I hope to report on a more detailed FLO Engage case study in the future.

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