I have lived through 2 local political disasters, and I’m seeing a third one unfold.

In Redondo Beach, the fate of the power plant has been argued for 30 years. 10 years ago an agreement was reached to remove the plant with ample opportunities for public involvement. At the 11th hour, a vocal minority raised a ruckus, and forced through a ballot measure because they wanted a park, and not a mix of park, retail and residential. The power plant is still there and looks to be going nowhere.

The same thing happened 3 years ago with the aging pier infrastructure. A development company was going to fix the crumbling parking structure, the annually flooded shopping/food boardwalk, and the children’s lagoon threatened with closure for unsanitary conditions. The agreement, fully displayed to the public, was scuttled by a last-minute re-zoning measure by folks who didn’t want a “mall”, no matter how nice. Law suits are still on-going.

The Pico corridor renovation, enabled by new LA laws along transit paths like the Expo line, is headed in the same direction.

What it does

Municipal leaders submit an issue (pulse) to Pulse and associate a series of questions. An in-depth description, along with relevant links can accompany the pulse. The pulse is tagged to a region. Users in that region can use the app to learn more about the issue, and vote their opinions by assigning points to each of the questions. Points are a limited quantity - each user gets 5 per question to distribute. They can place all points on one question that they feel very strongly about, or spread them around. Points can either be applied on the positive (agreement) side, or negative (disagreement) side. Either direction uses up the assigned points. Users can return to a pulse and change their point distribution as often as they like.

Aggregated results are shared with municipal leaders and the public. Insights can be gleaned such as sharply held opinions on specific questions, general consensus, and changes in sentiment over time. Actions can then be taken, such as adjusting plans, increasing communication, seeking additional input, etc., long before plans have progressed to the point of no return.

Pulse is far more informative, timely, convenient, and cost-effective than traditional means of garnering public opinion.

How we built it

We built an iOS app in Swift to gather user opinions on issues. A mobile app helps guarantee that users are truly local to the pulse. We used Parse for the backend database and user authentication. We built a web interface for analyzing pulse results and presenting data and charts in an informative manner.

We gathered local issue information from the Long Beach data site, and some outside sources for our backend.

Challenges we ran into

We were unfamiliar with Long Beach issues, and it took a while to research what was relevant. Building an app and web frontend in a day has also been a challenge. We had to learn the Javascript implementation of Parse to connect the website to our backend.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Creating a viable service that can have real social impact.

What we learned

We learned a lot about framing civil issues in a central way that invites opinion.

What's next for Pulse

We'd like to spend more time on the analytics and presentation of the results to help people understand the data.

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