MuniciPAL is a website that allows constituents and their elected officials to communicate more efficiently and regularly.
The primary target market is 18-24 year olds - we chose this target demographic because 34% of 18-24 year olds use social media and blogs for political purposes. These aren’t people that volunteer their time to campaigns, or donate money or e-mail their representatives about issues but they still display a degree of interest in politics - an untapped market if you will. Another key characteristic of this demographic is that the economic and educational stratification seen in traditional political involvement - where wealthier and better educated people are likelier to be involved in the political process - is significantly less. So if this group can be involved in the political process, it will give elected officials a more complete picture of their electorate.
The idea itself is to create a digital platform that will lower the perceived barriers to entry to political process by packaging participation in a format that is familiar and easily accessible to the target demographic. This isn’t meant to be a magic bullet for fixing voter engagement - but it’s meant to be a tool that can be used toward that goal.
Of course, user adoption among both constituents AND elected officials in key - without both the system collapses, so the website has to provide incentives for elected officials to use it - it needs to provide relevant, timely data that they can use and ideally that they can’t easily get anywhere else. Right now the focus on the municipal level as a proof of concept.
On the website itself, at the highest level, the constituent is presented with a series of major initiatives, to use Hamilton as an example, these would be things like ‘Expand Mobility Choices’, ‘Global Hamilton Immigration Services’, and so on. The purpose of these categories is primarily to organise the content of the website.
Clicking on an initiative, the constituent is taken to a page that displays the specific projects being worked on under that initiative. For example, by clicking ‘Expand Mobility Choices’, the constituent is taken to a page listing things like ‘Bike parking at municipal facilities’, ‘Hamilton Bike Share program’, ‘Cannon Street bi-directional bike lane’.
Now a key aspect of this page is that the order in which projects are displayed to the user is algorithmically determined. This is done by creating a user profile based on information the user can provide on their private profile (address, whether they’re married, have kids, areas of interest, etc.) and their previous activity on the website (which project they comment on and vote on the most, etc.). Thus the projects that are the most likely to interest or affect the user are at the top of the list - this fights voter apathy by presenting the user with things that they will naturally want to have their opinion heard on.
Once the user clicks on a project, they are taken to a project page. At the top of the page is the most up to date draft of the project. This draft includes a detailed point form description of what the project entails. For example the ‘Bike parking at municipal facilities’ project would list each location that is intended for bike parking, in addition to other relevant issues that need to be addressed. The first way the user can get involved is to state their opinion on these points - each point comes with a button next to it, where the user can select one of four options: must be implemented, should be implemented, should not be implemented, or must not be implemented. This allows the project admins - the elected officials and their staff - to see at a glance how people feel about the project. The second way to get involved is through the comments section. Under the project draft is what amounts to a reddit board. When the simple feedback options above are insufficient, users can post comments which other users can upvote if they think the comment is insightful or they share the same concerns, or downvote it if they think the user is being rude or unhelpful. The most popular issues and ideas will thus float to the top of the page - making it easier for representatives to address the concerns of their constituents without having to themselves sort through all the content. This comments section is also a way for representatives to engage directly with their constituents - for example if one point in the draft is unpopular but very important to the success of the project, they can make a post explaining the need for it to go through and hopefully sway public opinion unto their side.
In summary, for the voters the whole system is designed to fight apathy by presenting the constituents with issues they’re likelier to care about, and over time encourage them to participate in the political process. For the elected officials, it’s designed to provide a timely way of gathering feedback from a large portion of their voter.
Unfortunately, we were unable to implement all this functionality in time.