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Sidewalk Labs prototypes community participation tool

The company is working with Digital Public Square on Collab, which aims to support communities by helping them to make more inclusive, collbaborative decisions.

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Sidewalk Labs' Collab aims to help everyone become stewards of their own communities
Sidewalk Labs' Collab aims to help everyone become stewards of their own communities

Sidewalk Labs has partnered with Toronto-based non-profit Digital Public Square to prototype a digital tool that aims to increase community participation to help cities make more inclusive, collaborative decisions.

 

Sidewalk Labs’ director of civic innovation, Ariel Kennan, said that the company wants to create a tool that would allow community members to propose their choices for events in public spaces and then walk them through the trade-offs associated with each proposal. For example, a farmers’ market provides fresh produce and draws a lot of foot traffic, but the space may then feel too congested for a community picnic.

 

Privacy is the default

 

Writing in a blogpost on Medium.com, Kennan explained that Sidewalk Labs has designed for “privacy” to be the default in Collab. “While many participatory planning tools require personal information, such as an email address, we designed Collab so it can be used without people submitting any information about themselves, as we do not need this information to test the prototype,” she said.

 

“We are also transparent about what data we are collecting and how we are using it in our Privacy Policy and Responsible Data Use Assessment.”

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The companies began testing initial prototypes with Toronto-based neighbourhood associations, subject matter experts, and non-experts. It also worked with Code for Canada’s GRIT Toronto (Gathering Residents to Improve Technology), a Sidewalk-funded programme which brings usability testing to people of all digital skill levels, cultures, ages, and backgrounds wherever they are and incorporates feedback into the creation of new digital services and products.

“Our hope is that Collab users will not only understand where their individual contributions fit into the community’s decision, but feel more trust in civic processes overall”

The prototype aims to make the decision-making framework of public programming and all community inputs transparent and legible for all users. “Our hope is that Collab users will not only understand where their individual contributions fit into the community’s decision, but feel more trust in civic processes overall,” said Kennan, who is keen to hear from communities that want to try Collab, which will grow into an open-source tool available for everyone to use in their communities on the issues that matter most to them.

 

“In the future, we imagine that Collab could be utilised by organiations, such as a neighbourhood association or public space non-profit, to make more inclusive community decisions,” she said.

 

“But no matter how Collab develops or evolves with community input, our hope is that, with technologies like Collab serving as easy entryways to engagement, we can all be activated to shape our communities – and become true stewards of our communities.”

 

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