Creating interactive plans and reports is easier than you think
Plan documents. You know the type - long, squinty PDFs that can take forever to download and even longer to read. Community leaders want to share their plans and priorities with the public, but they’re typically not at the top of anyone’s reading list, and they certainly don’t provide opportunities for engagement. What’s a community to do?
Believe it or not, plan documents actually CAN be engaging. The problem is not with the information itself, but rather with the presentation of it. People want to be drawn in, not forced to wade through long, text-heavy pages in search of areas that are relevant to them. People want to experience information, not just read it. And if the content can be accessed on the go, quickly and easily, that’s a big plus too. Organizations that go the extra mile to engage the public through dynamic plan documents will reap the benefits of a more interested and involved audience, project buy-in, and ultimately a smoother plan implementation.
Take, for example, the zoning code published by the City of Albuquerque. While the information in the document is obviously important, it is not easy to understand, and it doesn’t leave a lasting impression or invite questions. Albuquerque was on the lookout for something better, so they built their new Interactive IDO (Integrated Development Ordinance) on a platform that would allow them to present their information online in a more interactive and eye-catching format. The Overview pages feature of the Konveio app offers a building-block format that can include interactive text, questions, and feedback options. The new online document brings the original PDF to life, inviting exploration of the subject and even including trivia questions relevant to the project. This is a “document” that will stick in the minds of users, and it provides Albuquerque with a time-saving tool that more easily answers citizen questions without requiring staff to provide individual responses.
The city planning department in Madison, Wisconsin, was working on a Comprehensive Plan update. Seeking the best solution for public outreach, the city used Konveio to create engaging public comment capabilities for collecting feedback on the draft plan. Interactive overlays included zoomable maps, Google Street View, and other rich media elements to bring the document to life. Stakeholders were able to click anywhere to provide feedback, and staff gained extra time that they’d previously spent managing comments since all feedback was captured in the context of the plan content. After adoption of the plan by the city council, planners expanded the online platform to create a living document that gets updated frequently, allowing citizens to track the implementation of the plan to provide transparency and accountability.
These organizations understood that complex information can be made engaging - and even fun - by thinking outside the PDF box and using the following 4 keys to create content engagement around long-form documents.
Who actually reads an entire plan document? Not many people, because the traditional presentation of a plan - even if it is put online - is wordy, long, and technical. Presenting a document as scannable, eye-catching chunks invites exploration and discovery rather than a cursory glance. Plan documents contain important information - keep people from scrolling past that information by providing visual summary or overview pages that give quick access to all the important sections. Then make the documents as visually appealing as everything else they see online!
The Madison Interactive Comprehensive Plan features easily digestible bits of information, highlighted by compelling graphics. The natural curiosity of the audience will guide them to click through to more detailed information about topics that matter to them, making it simple to get an overall feel for the project and find interesting content with ease. They can even share their discoveries via social media, automatically expanding Madison’s audience.
Gamification has become a popular means to attract more participation to public processes. But can it actually be applied to something as mundane as planning documents and reports? The new presentation of New Orleans’ Audubon Park masterplan provides excellent proof that it can. Visitors to the project’s plan site can easily jump between chapters and sections, explore additional information not within the document, zoom into maps or stroll through the park virtually using Google Street View, and use the quick link to an embedded contact form to get involved in the civic life of the park. Not your average masterplan, and certainly not collecting dust on the virtual shelf!
Visitors can easily zoom into maps or stroll through the park virtually using Google Street View, and use the quick link to an embedded contact form to get involved in the civic life of the park.
Most daily experiences in the Information Age are interactive. Why should plan documents remain static and dull? By bringing the information online and using interactivity to guide users, you can draw people into the experience and foster learning. People feel more engaged when they have a part to play in the process of digesting online information.
Far from the yawn-inducing format of traditional read-only ordinances, the zoning document published by the City of Albuquerque is highly interactive, encouraging hands-on exploration while aiding citizens’ understanding of the complex topic of zoning. Guide pages with questions address the most common inquiries that citizens have about zoning. For example, the “What uses can be developed on a property?” page starts with a simple address search, followed by multiple steps that guide the user toward information relevant to them. At the end, they can email a report with their findings to themselves - while saving department staff time they would have otherwise spent answering these same questions on the phone or in person. This personalized approach to making the important parts of a 500+ page document accessible without extensive scrolling and hair-pulling ultimately leads to greater happiness on all sides.
What opportunities for feedback might you find on traditional plan documents? At the most, you’ll find printed contact information, a website link, or a separate survey somewhere hard-to-find on the internet. Adding opportunities to provide feedback directly within a plan document can dramatically increase the quality of feedback. Rather than simply releasing information and guiding participants somewhere else to provide feedback, you can use plan documents as an opportunity to learn more about the opinions, insights, and preferences of your audience.
Maui’s MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization), in deciding how to handle long-term transportation development, knew that public feedback would play a critical role in determining the final course of action. Their interactive online factbook allows users to answer a quick overall comment form or click anywhere on the document to leave annotations. Others can see and respond to those comments or simply voice their support by upvoting existing comments. As a result, the feedback the MPO received from the public was well-informed and context-specific - a crucial change from the usual chaos of comments that are hard to follow, track and manage.
Their interactive online factbook allowed users to answer a quick overall comment form or click anywhere on the document to leave annotations.
In this age of technological wonders, it would be a shame if static documents were the only way to present content and invite feedback. Thankfully, there are more creative strategies available. Konveio has helped Albuquerque, the Maui MPO, and the City of Madison to bring their documents online and transform them into highly engaging experiences that are more likely to achieve the ultimate goal of any plan document - buy-in from the public that leads to a streamlined implementation.