The Pulse of Austin Goes to Market
Last week in Giving Life to the Pulse of Austin, we outlined our process in gathering data and creating a service blueprint of our idea. This week we’ve been focusing on our go-to-market plan.
We’ve created The Pulse of Austin (Pulseofaustin.org) as a way to collect and aggregate voices of individuals, as well as visual provide them with a feedback loop. This way, residents can see how their participation makes an impact. Additionally, we hope to provide decision makers in local government with a way to respond and address the collective concerns. Lastly, we will provide an education piece and highlight the programs that already exist within the city that might prove useful.
The platform builds off of several different perspectives we heard during our research:
Ellen “I’m angry at them [city government]. I came up to [my councilman] and asked him ‘when you gonna come out to the neighborhood and check out stuff?’ … He said ‘oh I’ll be out there’, and nothing. And I gave my number to him and everything.”
Jennifer – “You know, at first I wondered if city council wants to hear from us citizens.”
Diego – “Things change when we have critical mass. As a group when we reach a certain level of awareness of an issue, then there’s a change.”
The governmental process is obscure and the lack of feedback causes people to lose confidence in themselves and the system. This broken cycle discourages engagement.
We hope to communicate a holistic view of Austinite’s priorities to both better serve residents and the decision makers in the city.
Ideal Target Market
This platform is for residents in Austin who are civically minded, have an interest in engaging with local government, and use technology on a regular basis to express their opinions. These are people who want their voices to be heard, who care about an issue, and who haven’t seen much traction from past attempts. They want to contribute but fear it’s pointless.
This platform is also for local government officials, stakeholders, and decision makers that need a better way to easily understand what residents care about in order to make more informed decisions. These are officials that want to look good in the public eye, they want to be seen as civil servants, and they truly want to better understand the residents of the city – but they don’t want to spend too much time or energy in doing so, because they are already bombarded with messages that they can’t even act upon.
For the MVP we are only looking at Austin. Taking the current population, we can subtract those under 18 and those that don’t speak English (unfortunately the MVP will be for English speakers only), and our estimated number is just under half a million. Over 90% of eligible voters in Austin are registered, but the number of people that showed up to vote in the last election was just 13%. We are banking on our market capturing much more than just the people that show up to vote.
There are still several assumptions and potential deal breakers we are working with that need to be addressed as we continue to develop this idea:
- People will trust and recognize the impact that sharing their voice will bring.
- We will be able to figure out a way to visualize what people say in an easy-to- consume way.
- The city will use the data we provide to inform their decisions.
To create the MVP, the costs should be pretty minimal to start. So far we’ve spent $12 to purchase the domain, and $16 a month on website hosting. Other costs will include printing flyers or promotional materials ($30), but the biggest expense would be to hire a developer to help with the integrations of the data collection.
As of today, it’s just Nicole and I are taking on all the roles required, but despite our talents, there are still several roles that will need to be accounted for:
- Data visualization
- Marketing/Outreach (promotion)
- Communication Manager (Emails to participants)
- Resource manager (vetting and collecting programs and ways to participate)
- Website design
- City relation manager
Inspiration and competitors (?)
The other companies doing similar work don’t really feel like competitors. Our project is Austin specific and hopefully works better with other organizations as opposed to competes with them. However, in developing the idea for this project we found inspiration from many different sources, including a lot of a great companies doing things in the civic tech space.
Here are a couple of similar projects that we think are pretty great:
Other places where we found inspiration:
We’ve already put some feelers out into the world and are anticipating some push back. Here are some things we anticipate hearing, and what our response would be:
“This is not a legitimate source of information” – All the voices that we have collected come from people that we have verified live in Austin and have submitted their opinions and concerns without solicitation or influence from us.
“We already have data” – The data the city has isn’t easy to understand and remains widely unused. The Pulse of Austin provides an easy to understand snapshot of what people care about using the words from the people themselves.
“We do our own surveys” – The Pulse of Austin offers a way for people to speak to what they care about and educate them on resources that already exist. The responses are richer because users speak from a place of experience, not just to fulfill a survey.
“I hold coffee meetings so I know what my district wants” – Since not everyone can be and the community meetings you hold, it’s important to give all residents and easy way to participate and share their voice.
“I have a staff that responds to people with concerns” – Staff are often bogged down with an overwhelming number of people they must respond to. Residents are unsatisfied and begin to lose trust in the government when they don’t hear from their council member directly. This is an easy way to respond to many people at once and still maintain a personal feel.
“I don’t think this will make much of a difference” – The best way to make a difference in civic life is to participate. Decision makers at local government aren’t able to respond to and synthesize the voices and concerns of each individual on their own. They need a better way to understand what people care about and they need to hear from you in order to better serve the city
All good plans start with a timeline. It’s true we aren’t really sure how long some of the important parts of building out our platform will take, but we are focusing on three main areas. The pre-launch, the soft-launch (which we consider our MVP or the pilot) and the post-launch, which will be the assessment and evaluation stage as we continue to build. The most important steps for us right now are to continue to gather data and work on creating a visualization that at least feels interactive.
Depending on how some of the conversations go with stakeholders, we are hoping to build alliances with people in civic tech to help us with the pilot as we move forward. We know we have to start exploring other channels to encourage participation on the Pulse, and get the word out.
- Posting to Facebook interest groups
- Visiting neighborhood association meetings and asking them to participate
- Asking the City of Austin to promote it
- SXSW cities event, handing out flyers
- Look for speaking opportunities (?)
- Hosting a booth at Civic Night
- Promoting it at civic related Meetups
- Flyers in mail, at bus stops, on community boards
- Using libraries to promote it
How might the word be spread? Pulling from the article, 8 ways to go viral, we’ve identified what we think will be the top ways the Pulse of Austin will be shared:
- Inherent virality
- From users – “This is a great way to share what I care about, I want my friends on here to share what they care about too and support what I think!” + “My voice won’t count for much unless it’s boosted by more like-minded individuals. I need to get this out there!”
- From city officials – “This is a good way to see what people think. We should all use use this when we make decisions.”
- Pure word of mouth “Hey have you heard about The Pulse of Austin? It’s really cool to see what people say, and they let you know what the city is doing about the things you care about.”
- Signature virality Online news articles, newsletters, reports use embedded data “amplified by The Pulse of Austin”
- Social virality Integration into Facebook – “Your friend Sara just added her voice to the pulse: exact words here. What do you think? Boost her voice or share your own!”
It’s a lot to tackle moving forward, and no doubt our plan and timeline will need to be revised as the Pulse continues to evolve. As it stands, I feel proud to be wrapping up Q3 with a project that I believe has a lot of potential to upgrade civic participation in Austin.