Sustainable Cities Collective has re-launched as Smart Cities Dive! Click here to learn more!

Online Community Collaboration Brings Town Hall Meetings To The 21st Century

By Joe Peach and Kasey Klimes

Town Hall meetings are a nice idea. Invite the community to share their opinions, and hopefully improve the local area based on their suggestions. Unfortunately, status and who-can-shout-the-loudest often creeps in to the process, rendering this supposedly democratic process anything but.

Enter MindMixer – a new organisation based in Omaha, Nebraska. Founded by a small team of urban planners that saw major problems with traditional town hall and charrette models, allows users to submit ideas within a series of given topics like Transportation, Public Safety, or Community Vision. This idea then remains open for 'support' (think Facebook's 'like' button for urban design) and feedback, with the comment system allowing for collaborative refining of ideas.

In order to incentivise users, MindMixer rewards points for submitting ideas, commenting, and receiving supports. Those with the most points score small civic rewards like bus passes, and ideas created within MindMixer that end up being implemented in the real city are proudly displayed.

MindMixer is currently partnered with Omaha, Burbank, Joplin, Tuscaloosa and Kansas City, with future US launches planned (and clear potential for global expansion). Hundreds of ideas have been submitted within MindMixer, including innovative public space concepts, enhancements to transportation networks, and creative new housing policies. The tool has also proven to be a particularly adept model in the disaster recovery efforts of Nashville, Tuscaloosa, and Joplin, in the aftermath of floods and tornados. And the city of Omaha recently made major adjustments to their city budget based on input from MindMixer – the first time in history an online civic engagement platform has been used to create a city budget.

For a web tool only a year old, MindMixer has seen some pretty impressive success stories. As the service expands across the US it will be interesting to see whether the traditional pitfalls of town hall meeting creep into the process. If not, MindMixer is an exciting service to keep an eye on, with a lot of potential for positive community engagement.