Hurricanes, Tornados, and Flooding, Oh My!: How Social Media is Changing the Way Local Governments Manage Natural Disasters

Tali Fierer

Tali Fierer

Content & Social Media Manager

Most people think of summer as a time to kick-back, relax, and head to the beach. Well, that’s true for the most part, but for some parts of the country, summer also signifies the start of unpredictable weather. Whether it’s hurricanes along the East Coast and the Gulf Coast states, or tornados in the Great Plains, wild summer weather can cause some serious damage and problems for a city, especially in light of the changes and increased severity of weather patterns due to climate change. So what role can social media play in managing what Mother Nature throws at a city or county?

Planning for the Worst

Cities and counties, especially those prone to difficult weather conditions, usually have emergency plans in place which may include defining primary first responders, shelters, and evacuation strategies. They will also try to reach out to as many citizens as possible, especially in anticipation of a serious weather event, through traditional channels such as the press, TV, and radio, while also utilizing digital channels like the city/county website and, in more recent years, social media. 

Who Ya Gonna Tweet?

Social media, in particular, has become a far more relevant communication platform for cities to reach out to residents. It contains a wealth of information that can assist cities to better understand what’s happening and what their residents think in real-time. It’s this accessibility and the extensive widespread consumption of social media that makes it invaluable, particularly in times of crisis, whether it’s man-made, or when Mother Nature unleashes her fury. Below are some of the top reasons that social media is a  powerful tool for managing what’s happening with residents during a natural disaster:

  • You can get in touch with many residents easily and quickly so that you can share important information. And the more data channels you can share information on, the higher the probability you will be able to reach different communities, age groups, etc. The result will be that more residents will have the information they need, and the safer they’ll be. You can see how this has been applied during some of the major hurricanes of the past decade. Whether it was hurricanes Irene, Sandy, or Harvey, social media enabled local government and emergency services to provide important information and assistance to residents, especially when traditional communication options like 911 were not accessible.
  • Residents can share information more easily via social media, and at the same time, through social media, they can communicate back with you. This kind of communication – more than just info sharing, can give a local government agency dealing with a crisis insight into what residents are experiencing, what they need, and even if misinformation is circulating. Artificial Intelligence and tech can help you then take this avalanche of social media data and online communication that happens in times of crisis and quickly process it so you can use it to respond more effectively and in real-time to your residents’ needs during and post a weather event. For example, the City of Dayton informed residents that they needed to boil water after a tornado struck the municipality earlier this year, as well as provided residents with other important updates through the City’s various social media channels. 
  • Finally, you can leverage this data to be able to make data-driven decisions to provide urgent services such as where to deploy help and how to organize the community, as well as leverage the power of your residents. When Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, local resident Matthew Hager was able to gather a group of coders to create a site and apps that were adopted and promoted by the City as a means to help residents. The impromptu project was so successful, it was adopted by Florida as well. 

When in Rome

Though social media as a tool for cities and counties has only been adopted more heavily in the last few years, it has proven itself as an effective tool during times of crisis beyond traditional mediums of communication. Local governments have learned to adapt to the technology revolution that has become the day to day norm for most people, especially when the majority of the population uses social media. As a result, it only makes sense that technologies like social media have become important tools when managing what surprises Mother Nature may bring to local government and residents alike.

How AI Can Be Used to Tackle Homelessness

Tali Fierer

Tali Fierer

Content & Social Media Manager

After receiving complaints from local businesses and residents, the City of Beaverton, Oregon, implemented a ban against car camping on its city streets in the summer of 2018. The ban attracted a great deal of attention from the media and the community at large, as well as gave rise to suggestions for services the city could provide its homeless population as an alternative. Beaverton ending up adopting one of the solutions and creating a Safe Parking program, which provides the homeless that live in their vehicles a safe location to park as well as access to facilities like bathrooms, storage options, and more. 

After securing funding for the program, the City started to hear voices of dissent and dissatisfaction about the upcoming launch. The City used Zencity’s platform and the power of Artificial Intelligence to track resident sentiment over a three month period to get a more in-depth understanding of what people actually thought about the program, especially in the neighborhoods where it was going to be launched.  

To learn more about what they learned using tech and how the City leveraged data to ultimately get the community on board for a successful launch, read the full case study.

What are the Top Best Practices for Effective Proactive Governance?

Tali Fierer

Tali Fierer

Content & Social Media Manager

Proactive governance requires an invested interest and effort by City Hall to engage with residents and embrace resident feedback. This means taking feedback into account for city policies, priorities, initiatives, and other needs that may arise for the community. An open line of communication – and responsiveness to it – in turn, creates public trust and improves the services that a city provides. That being said, effective proactive governance is a delicate balancing act. How do civic leaders know if they are doing it right, especially when communication has shifted to the digital format? 

In our new guide, Best Practices for Proactive Governance: Some of the Best Practices You’ll Want to Adopt for Effective Proactive Governance, we provide some recommended best practices based on our experience working with dozens of cities across the US.

Our guide includes:

  • How to harness and embrace the voice of the people
  • How to respond and analyze resident feedback
  • What type of planning is involved 
  • And much more!

To read our guide and gain insights on how you can implement proactive governance practices, you can download it here.

What’s Trending for Mayors in 2019 at the 87th Annual US Conference of Mayors?

Tali Fierer

Tali Fierer

Content & Social Media Manager

The origins of the US Conference of Mayors lie in the streets of Detroit during the Great Depression. Detroit, just like the rest of the country, was suffering from high unemployment rates and starving citizens that the City couldn’t handle on its own. The Mayor of Detroit, Frank Murphy, asked for help from the federal government and President Hoover, but to no avail. He took a proactive approach and instead decided to search for solutions from those who understood what he was going through best: other mayors.  

Mayors from across the country gathered in Detroit and presented their proposal to the federal government. They demanded financial assistance for cities trying to manage the aftermath of the financial catastrophe that was plaguing the country. The proposal was unheard of at the time, but it forced the government to respond and provide the desperately needed assistance that the cities required. In addition, this same gathering of mayors also proposed the establishment of an organization for mayors to be created to make sure cities had their voices heard in Washington D.C. That organization would later become the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

What’s Happening Today?

Fast forward to the present and the Conference has become the preeminent organization for mayors in the country, with the Annual Meeting marking the largest gathering of mayors within the United States. This year, the 87th Annual Meeting was hosted by Mayor Kirk Caldwell in sunny Honolulu, Hawaii, and was presided over under the successful leadership of outgoing president, Columbia, SC, Mayor Steve Benjamin. As was true in the first meeting held in the early 1930s, this year’s meeting continued the tradition of being proactive with difficult issues by tackling them head-on, especially when it comes to improving the lives and the wellbeing of people in cities and towns across the country.

The Issues

Our team recently returned from Hawaii and took note of five main themes at the top of mayors’ agendas. Mayors across the country are grappling with these tough issues: 

  1. Homelessness – How can local government, philanthropy, and the private sector help to reduce homelessness by working together to find affordable housing solutions?
  2. The Environment – What can cities do to be greener and reduce the effects of climate change? 
  3. LGBTQ Alliance – While Mayors have been active in the LGBTQ civil rights movement throughout its history, how can cities further advance equality, representation, and leadership within their cities 50 years after the Stonewall Riots?
  4. Immigration – What are cities doing along the Southern border in response to migration patterns from Latin American countries, and what are the challenges imposed by the Justice Department? How should cities move forward after the 2020 Census citizenship decision?
  5. Civic Engagement – How can cities improve and strengthen engagement between the local police force and the community at large? How can cities empower youth through civic involvement?

All these difficult questions cannot be answered by a single city on its own. To do so requires the talent and skills of local government leaders from both sides of the political aisle and that’s what makes the U.S. Conference of Mayors a productive forum to bring about the needed change for people in their cities.

The Future

Incoming president, Mayor Bryan K. Barnett from Rochester Hills, MI, will be leading the Conference for the upcoming year. Most of these issues will not be going away anytime soon, but that’s where the advantage of rotating leadership comes into play to provide fresh eyes and new ideas. We look forward to seeing what his leadership will bring and how he will handle future issues that will undoubtedly pop up during his tenure, along with what solutions and ideas mayors across the U.S. can provide for Americans because, at the end of the day, mayors and city governments are at the front-lines in battling national problems.

BBQs, Fireworks & AI: How Technology Can Help Local Governments Manage 4th of July & Other Summer Events

Tali Fierer

Tali Fierer

Content & Social Media Manager

Ah, summer. It’s that time of the year where any thoughts of sweaters are pushed aside, while sunshine, trips to the beach, BBQs, and 4th of July fireworks take center stage. It’s also that time of year when local governments across the country are hard at work putting on fabulous events. Lot’s of them. Whether it’s live concerts or artisan fairs, a large number of people will be heading out to experience summer festivals and the like, including city and county sponsored affairs.

The Shopping List for a City Sponsored Event

Most local governments in cities, towns, and counties across the US will be organizing some kind of event this summer, especially for the 4th of July. No matter which government body is responsible, an event of that scale is a complicated logistical matter that requires:

  • Food stalls
  • Stage(s)
  • Performances
  • Trash Collecting
  • Security
  • Managing and redirecting traffic 
  • Fireworks
  • And much, much more

Of course, none of the above would actually be possible without the right resources. And as any city knows, the budget can be a tricky issue. Furthermore, local government-sponsored events are usually available to the public free of charge. This makes it much harder to determine if an event was a success or not, since there are no ticket sales, for example, which is how a private event’s success might be measured. A local government’s bottom line, however, isn’t usually to make a profit. It’s to create a positive experience for residents and participants. So how can a city know if the event was worth the investment if it can’t be measured based on what was earned? Is the number of people attending enough? Or does a city need to know more? That’s where technology comes into the picture.

Feedback About Events is Accessible with the Right Tools

Most people will usually not directly communicate with a city and say that an event the city put on great and that they enjoyed it. But, they might express that they loved a fireworks display on Facebook, or post a selfie with a stage behind them on Instagram. These informal channels provide a wealth of information that would nearly be impossible to comb through manually without the help of tools such as an Artificial Intelligence platform like Zencity, which can analyze thousands of posts efficiently, quickly, and provide the data in an organized fashion. From this information, a city can actually get a lot of positive feedback. A deeper analysis of this data might help a sponsoring government organization learn even more, for example, that what was initially supposed to be a community targeted event had actually attracted out-of-town tourists. Maybe the event even got the city some attention in a regional or national news outlet. A city can also learn specifically what residents enjoyed – the local brewery’s beer stand – and what they enjoyed less – the location of the port-a-potties. A city can then learn from its successes and learn what to keep and repeat at the next event they organize, and what might need changing up.

Using Technology to Manage and Problem Solve in Real-Time

Complaints and highlighting the negative is usually the type of feedback a city is used to, but this is also where AI can shine, no matter what stage in the process a city is in when managing an event. Whether it’s pre-planning to understand what your residents want, to problem-solving during the event, to measuring the impact of the event in its aftermath, Artificial Intelligence can help a city understand what’s happening with their event by monitoring both official and unofficial channels where residents are communicating. This might include noise complaints to 311 from residents that live nearby the event (an official channel), or event-goers complaining on Twitter that there are not enough toilet facilities (an unofficial channel). A city can then act in real-time to tackle complaints before things can escalate.

By keeping track of what happens throughout the process of managing the event, especially through informal channels like social media or the comments section of a news site, cities can also take stock and understand what mistakes were made after the event was completed. For example, a city might consider moving the location of an event the next time it organizes it to a location with better public transportation access. Or perhaps the performers were lack-luster and the performances were not a crowd pleaser. AI can analyze feedback in a nuanced way to provide nuanced, actionable insights about an event so that the city can plan better and know what needs improvement next time around.

Did the Event Move the Needle?

With the use of technology, a city can gain insights and learn both the good and the bad from a city-sponsored event, whether it’s for the 4th of July or a summer concert series. Moreover, by taking a data-driven approach, a city or county can justify the financial costs of sponsoring a repeat event, investing more in an event, or leaving it as a one-time experiment and shifting next year’s budget to something else. All a local government organization has to do is use the right tools to tap into and analyze the data out there so that it can make the right decisions no matter what stage of the event process they’re in. 

Upgrading Cities: How CIOs Bridge the Gap Between Cities and Technology

Tali Fierer

Tali Fierer

Content & Social Media Manager

Filing cabinets, clunky phones, computers still running on a dial-up connection, and other relics from the end of the 20th century are some of the things that people might imagine still exist in local government organizations. And in part, there is some truth to these stereotypes. But things are changing. Cities have recognized the need to shift to be more technology savvy organizations and to become “smarter,” but that requires someone with the digital expertise to help connect cities with the right tools and resources. That’s where the CIO comes into the picture.

Helping Cities Become Smarter

The Chief Information/Innovation Officer is the bridge between a city and new technology. A CIO comes with a toolbox of knowledge and experience that they’ve accumulated from the private sector to help execute the vision of a city’s leadership. They can also identify any additional places where an “upgrade” in technological tools is needed. And the CIO does all of this in the interest of helping the city better serve the public.  

The Hurdles

For a CIO, it’s the norm to have a finger on the pulse of cutting edge technology and to use tools like dashboards and cloud-based software solutions in a private sector organization. But a city isn’t a large private tech company, and there are multiple hurdles a CIO must deal with such as:

  • A much smaller and/or limited budget, which is a general issue for local government organizations
  • Limited communication and/or collaboration between departments. This means data from, for example, the Transportation Department, is often siloed and separated from other departments, like Waste Management, even if both parties could potentially benefit from the shared knowledge
  • Lack of an overarching tool, like what large private sector organizations use from companies such as SAP, to help manage a city’s entire software suite
  • Outdated software like older operating systems, browsers, and websites that are in need of upgrading
  • Established paper-based systems for storing, managing, and processing information
  • And perhaps a local government organization itself where the culture is a general fear of technology and change

All these potential limitations can make things all the more difficult for a CIO to affect widescale, organizational change. Still, all these limitations can also help a CIO get creative with solutions.

Using Tech Alchemy to Improve Cities

A CIO is like an alchemist, transforming old technology and resources into gold and integrating the new into the existing framework. With their experience from the fast-paced private sector, they also have an understanding of the need to connect with an organization’s consumer, which in the case of cities, is the average resident. This is where they can use their magic skills and potions, by introducing new ideas and innovation that a city might not be familiar with. That ingenuity, curiosity, and knowledge is part of what CIOs bring to the table that helps a city shift from a slow, outdated organization, into an efficient modern-day, tech-savvy institution.

CIOs also bring with them an understanding of a different organizational structure that can be adapted to City Hall. CIOs help departments formulate and identify relevant KPIs and metrics to create benchmarks to improve upon, which also helps the CIO figure out what data needs to be organized and leveraged and to introduce the right tools into the picture to manage it. For example, a city might want resident feedback on what should be included in a new park that is being built. While there are public meetings where citizens can voice their opinion, a CIO might identify that an Artificial Intelligence platform like Zencity will provide a better understanding of what citizens want since it allows them to connect with the voice of silent majority that will most likely not attend a council session. Additionally, if a CIO isn’t sure or requires further information on a tech topic or tool, he/she can access a large professional network from their prior positions in the private sector but also in the local government world, where there is a growing community of game-changing CIOs.

Helping Everyone Upgrade to the Next Level

The CIO is the behind the scenes person that most citizens within a city will never really encounter, but will definitely feel their influence. They make sure that resources like city-related websites, forms, and even call-centers run faster, smoother, and more effectively. They are also the tech guides for the city and their colleagues by helping different departments optimize themselves with tools like Artificial Intelligence so that they can shift from a 20th-century city to a 21st-century one. But beyond all that, the CIO is the person who just wants to help change and improve everyone’s lives within a city by taking a city to the next level.

Leveraging Data in Times of Crisis: Managing a Mass Shooting in Aurora, IL

Tali Fierer

Tali Fierer

Content & Social Media Manager

In February of 2019, Aurora, Illinois, unfortunately, joined the ever-growing list of cities that have experienced a mass shooting within the United States. The outcome of the tragedy resulted in five deaths, as well as six injured, including five police officers. The incident almost immediately went viral on social media and was soon picked up by the national media as well. In addition to the news vans from major TV networks, more than 300 first responders from multiple law enforcement agencies descended on the city. This created an information overload about the incident and on what was being reported.

The City knew it needed to take control, and fast. It had to have a better grasp of how the event was being discussed and presented to the public, while at the same time ensuring that residents were receiving accurate information. The City turned to technology. With the help of Zencity’s Artifical Intelligence platform, it leveraged the wealth of data streaming in from multiple channels in parallel, ranging from their own official sites, to national broadcast media, to unofficial social media sources, so that they could take a data-driven approach to manage the crisis.

To learn what steps the City took to manage the information residents received, the overflow of reporting on the shooting nationally, and finally how Zencity became a tool in managing the aftermath of the tragedy and helped the community to bounce back, download the full case study below.

What Do Your Residents Think About Your City’s Brand And Why Keyword Searches Can’t Help You Answer That Question

Tali Fierer

Tali Fierer

Content & Social Media Manager


Searching for information has become intuitive, easy, and mundane. All you have to do is open your preferred search engine, type in what you’re looking for, and hit enter. That’s it. What might have taken people hours, days, or even weeks in decades past can easily be achieved within seconds in the palm of your hand with your mobile phone. Still, even with all of the technological advancements that have been made, not everything is perfect when you search online, and this is especially the case with cities and their citizens’ sentiment towards them.

Want to Know What Consumers Want? Go Online

It’s easy to connect consumer sentiment to consumer goods. Some brands, like Coca-Cola, are old and established from the days before the shift to digital, while others, like Amazon, built their reputation thanks to the digital age. For big brands, keeping their finger on the pulse of consumer sentiment is vital to brand success, and they spend a great deal of money to know what people are thinking about them, both offline and online. The digital world has become a primary resource for gathering data on what people like and dislike, and companies rely on a host of digital tools to help them aggregate this data to understand consumer behavior and preferences. Digital tools for big brands rely on keyword searches – like “Coca-Cola” – to aggregate and analyze all brand mentions. However, unlike for private entities, these tools are weaker when it comes to providing the same type of results and information for local governments.

Why Can’t Cities Use the Same Tools?

Several factors prevent existing B2B and B2C tools, such as those used for social media management and aggregating data from those channels, from giving cities the right and relevant info needed to connect with resident preferences and feedback but a lot of it boils down to how existing digital tools and platforms use keyword searches:  

  • Many general keyword searches won’t provide relevant information for city administrators because other cities or products share the same name. Instead, they’ll overwhelm the city user with an avalanche of irrelevant information that refers to anything-but-that-particular-city. For example, Springfield exists in multiple states, and in the world of TV as home to The Simpsons. A keyword search for Corona (California), competes with the brand of beer.
  • Additionally, there are many more city-related mentions online that connect to local businesses, real-estate listings, or other organizations other than to topics or issues important for city management. Sifting through all of that data manually to pull out what’s relevant is virtually impossible in the big data age.
  • In addition to competing names and name-duplicates, another reason it’s hard for general keyword searches to pull useful information for city management is that cities have a small audience size online in proportion to the private sector, usually just consisting of the local population that resides there and perhaps on the regional level as well, so its hard for cities to compete online.
  • City websites and social media channels may not have many sites linking to them, or people actively referencing them on social media, as a consumer brand would – all things which ensure that a keyword search of a city name is unlikely to serve a city’s needs.
  • Other digital resources will most likely outrank city-specific comments and information, including a Wikipedia entry on the city itself.

So what’s the bottom line? The aggregate tools out there today that use keyword-based searches to help cities understand how they’re being spoken about in the online and social media worlds are simply not tailored for cities and their algorithms for data gathering are not city-specific. They just won’t provide the same level of information and resident feedback as a city needs. Instead, they’ll cast a wide net that returns all of the types of city mentions and discussions listed above – parallel names, competing brands, and info irrelevant to city management like Craiglist postings. The majority of this data will not be relevant for city management, and the onus will lie on city staff to dig into the data overload and figure out what actually is relevant.

Getting the Right Tools

So how can a city understand its brand presence and relevance to its residents? Local governments need a different way to be able to search and analyze data to understand what people think. This is where a city-specific platform, like Zencity, can provide a city with an understanding of its online presence and outreach, and help fill the gap for cities about resident sentiment towards their local government. Using AI technology tailored for cities, Zencity can cast a wide-net but then narrow down the data more appropriately to provide the city only relevant information for city management. For example, the algorithms can automatically differentiate someone tagging a city in a photo about a pothole versus just a selfie with their friends (both mention the city but only the first is relevant to city management). Additionally, rather than relying on keyword searches, Zencity’s team of expert data analysts knows how to identify the channels where residents are most likely discussing their city – resident groups and pages, 311 hotlines, local news sources, and more – to ensure data is being aggregated from these channels, not just from the entire social media world. Zencity’s city-specific AI algorithms are able to quickly dissect, tag, and organize all the various small pieces of information into one ‘big picture’ of what residents are saying about a city, which, in turn, helps provide local governments with the ability to pursue data-driven decisions and policies based on their residents’ real needs and priorities.

Zencity’s City-Specific AI Algorithm


Though cities do not have the same kind of presence online as a familiar brand in the private sector, there is still a wealth of invaluable information out there that a city normally has limited resources to collect and analyze without technology. By using the power of an AI-driven, city-specific platform that provides the right information for city officials, a city can hone in, at the click of a button, on the relevant online feedback information it can use to better serve its residents, which it would not otherwise be able to do with a platform that just relies on general keyword searches.

What’s the Best Approach to Managing E-Scooters in a City?

Tali Fierer

Tali Fierer

Content & Social Media Manager

E-Scooters have taken over the streets in cities across the world and the US has been the epicenter of the e-scooter phenomenon where companies like Bird and Lime took disruptive measures to introduce their new services to the market. The introduction of these dockless vehicles to city life was often met with no shortage of controversy as residents adjusted to this new mode of transportation.

ople riding recklessly, scooters blocking sidewalks, and pedestrians getting hit are part of the difficulties when e-scooters are introduced into a new urban environment. On the flip side, they help connect people to public transportation by closing gaps in the system, provide a great alternative to cars and bikes within a city, and are fun to use. Though e-scooters make the headlines in less than flattering ways at times, the overall sentiment amongst Americans is surprisingly positive. Still, not every city welcomed this innovative transportation alternative with open arms, as was the case with the City of San Francisco, while others struggled with what to do with the sudden change.

The Town of Cary, North Carolina, for example, experienced such a conundrum when e-scooters popped up one day on its streets. Though there were certainly some loud and vocal complaints being expressed towards the e-scooters, and neighboring towns and cities already announced their own policies on the topic, the Town decided to tackle the issue with a data-driven approach before drawing and drastic conclusions.

Using advanced Artificial Intelligence technology, the Town’s leadership gauged widespread resident feedback over a three month period, measuring resident sentiment towards the scooters. The decision to monitor what was really happening provided the Town with the voices of the silent majority, and not only the vocal minority. The Town’s leadership then armed itself with this data when making its recommendations to Town Council as to what Cary’s approach should be towards the scooters.

To learn more about how Cary decided to approach e-scooters, what data they brought to the Town Council, and how they used cutting-edge technology in the process, download the full case study.

AI: The Tool You Didn’t Know You Needed to Save Time and Money For Your City

Tali Fierer

Tali Fierer

Content & Social Media Manager

The budget. It’s a pain point for most cities, especially since it usually entails budget cuts for particular departments, projects, and/or individuals, rather than budget surpluses. For cities, budgets are a complex beast. Ultimately, cities are left with the annual challenge of how to spend limited resources in the most efficient and effective way possible, and this is no easy feat. Especially because cities, in particular, are renowned for being under-funded and under staffed. The good news is that with technology today, the right tools can compensate both for budget and for staffing, and here’s how:

1. Technology is a Lean Team’s Spinach for Data Management

The same way that spinach gave Popeye superhuman strength when it seemed like he was down for the count, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can assist lean teams by suddenly boosting their abilities to do more with less. It allows cities to compensate their limited staff with the means to manage larger scale activities that would require extensive manpower, and to help them budget more effectively by keeping track of what worked and what didn’t with various projects and activities throughout the year, including when an emergency pops up.  

The City of Dayton, Ohio, for example, had a city-wide crisis on their hands when the water main for the city burst. The City’s call center, which usually handled just a couple of hundred calls per day, was suddenly swamped with thousands of calls. The situation required cross-departmental cooperation and up-to-date information needed to be available to all parties involved with the managing of the crisis. The City opened up their can of spinach, in this case, Zencity’s AI platform, to help them flex their digital muscle to analyze the massive amount of phone calls, as well as the comments through social media, to oversee the situation in real-time. The result was that Dayton was able to manage all the input it was receiving through the multiple channels, and to be able to successfully update residents and local media in real-time with a lean team.  AI provided the City with the ability to easily analyze massive amounts of information from internal and external data sources, even with limited manpower, without it getting lost along the way.

2. AI is All About the Need for Speed

Even when it’s not an emergency scenario, Artificial Intelligence can help speed up the analysis of a large volume of data for a city to help understand specific initiatives, events, and even policies. This past spring, the City of Beaverton hosted a city-wide event that became vastly oversubscribed. It used Zencity to help it prepare a report within minutes on what participants were saying on social media about the event, that otherwise would have taken its staff hours if not days to manually prepare. Abigail Elder, Director of the Office of the Mayor for the City of Beaverton, Oregon, concisely describes what an AI platform like Zencity offers the city’s staff when handling situations like the above:

“Beaverton’s staff is small and nimble. Zencity saves us time and money, particularly when it comes to pulling reports. Thanks to Zencity, we’re able to quickly and easily gather data on topics that would have normally taken extensive staff time. Zencity is therefore an excellent capacity building tool for us, and a resource-saver.”

Beaverton has also used Zencity’s platform as a capacity building tool to understand resident feedback on specific initiatives, like their innovative but initially controversial Safe Parking pilot program, which they recently launched to help tackle homelessness.

The ability to quickly process data helps cities to save time, which in turn allows staff to work on other priorities that need to be taken care of which helps save the city money.

3. Using AI to Upgrade Your Existing Toolbox

Beaverton’s examples touch on another important feature of AI – gathering and analyzing resident feedback. Traditional citizen engagement tools such as surveys and town halls have helped cities figure out and manage some of the issues that need improvement. Though ultimately these tools should help cities plan more effectively, they often end up being costly and inefficient, since they may force cities to use expensive external consulting processes and post-analysis services, meaning cities receive resident feedback answers months after they set out to answer questions. AI can help reduce this requirement by providing a quick and easily accessible means to go through results and assist with the analysis in a nuanced fashion, all at the click of a button. This is because AI can automatically collect and process vast amounts of resident feedback data instantly, something consulting teams just aren’t capable of no matter how talented.

4. Improving Efficiency with Technology

AI doesn’t just allow you to gather resident feedback data more quickly – and in real-time as Zencity lets you do – it also can gather resident feedback from a much broader range of sources in parallel, like official and unofficial channels on social media, city hotlines as noted with the Dayton example, or comments on news website. This provides a more complete understanding of what is happening in a city and what the majority of residents really think, in a timely fashion. A city is then able to avoid falling into the ‘Same Ten People’ trap where only a loud, vocal minority is heard. Understanding widespread resident feedback in real-time enables cities to take control and to be able to govern proactively, all the while being able to manage potential problems before they snowball into something larger that causes friction between residents and city officials, and often ultimately costs the city in staff and financial resources. As noted by Michael Pegues, Chief Information Officer for the City of Aurora, Illinois:

“In the short time we’ve used ZenCity, it’s been an early win in terms of improving operational efficiency and cost savings. ZenCity consolidates everything into one place. It’s easy to use and it surpasses all of the other platforms we were using to understand what’s happening in our city.”


Whether it’s due to balancing the budget or completing tasks with fewer resources, time and money are always on the minds of city officials. No matter what the circumstances are though, they still need to be able to provide the needed services for their residents, even in the face of financial uncertainty. With the help of Artificial Intelligence, it not only makes life easier, but actually saves time, money, enhances existing tools, and improves efficiency for the city and its residents alike.

How to Transform Resident Feedback from Negative to Positive in Your City Using Technology

Tali Fierer

Tali Fierer

Content & Social Media Manager

Cities are made by people and run by people. And because of that, not everything will run smoothly or according to plan. Often, it seems that the negative feedback from one standout incident or against one policy or project drowns out the rest of the city’s hard work, effort, and investment in the community. Sound familiar? Don’t get discouraged. We’re here to tell you that you don’t have to get bogged down in the negative – and even when negative feedback is so overwhelming that you think the only solution is to rewrite policy, head to the city council, or scratch an initiative, there is hope. More than that, it’s possible to do more than just neutralize a negative situation; you can actually transform it into a positive one with the assistance of technology.

Turning Crisis Into Positive Community Dialogue

Crisis-management in a city is no walk in the park. A city has to solve the crisis and, at the same time, keep residents informed and make them feel secure and taken care of. Traditionally, cities responded to the public through local media, which often controls and frames the discussion. Today cities also have the world of social media and online news sources to contend with. Technology has incredible applications for crisis-management, with the potential to enable cities to take control and lead the conversation about an event, and follow what’s happening with residents in real-time to create positive results. This means that rather than being threatened by the 24-hour news cycle and the possibility of a disaster going viral, cities now have a way to leverage these opportunities and give them an edge of control.

The City of Corona, California, faced exactly the kind of crisis every town fears. Local police discovered the body of an abandoned, deceased infant and the incident became viral, triggering a firestorm of activity and criticism both online and offline towards the city and its Safe Surrender policy. The local government used Aritificial Intelligence to manage the swell of resident feedback. Where previously it might have been overwhelmed with the amount of discourse, AI allowed city hall, at the click of a button, to understand and break down resident sentiment towards the situation in a clear fashion to provide it with nuanced insights. The data showed that various rumors and misinformation were taking hold of the discussion within the media and the public at large and that residents did not have a complete picture of policy and the case itself. With this knowledge, the city used technology to implement a proactive, data-driven approach to manage the crisis, and responded in a targetted way to correct the misinformation and its citizens’ concerns. City leaders were able to improve engagement and communication, shifting a difficult, crisis situation into fruitful community dialogue. And with technology, the city could also track this shift, from negative to positive.

Getting Residents on Board When They Hate Your Project

Even though you have good intentions to improve your city, sometimes residents’ knee-jerk response will simply be to hate your plan as soon as they hear about it. Maybe they feel it will change the neighborhood’s character, other times they may think it will just be too disruptive to their day-to-day lives. Or, residents might simply not understand the city’s broader vision. You can’t always please everyone, but a serious mistake a city can make is to make assumptions and brush aside citizen sentiment without checking what residents are really thinking. Technology can help to bridge the gap between city hall and its citizens to create better trust and understanding between the two groups, and ultimately even to help align residents with your good intentions.

The City of Ashdod, Israel, is a great case-in-point. As part of its vision to catapult its public transportation system into the future, the city rolled out a long term infrastructure project called the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT). When construction began, residents expressed their immediate dissatisfaction with the project, and city hall made its assumptions about what it believed was the problem – traffic caused by roadwork. The relationship between the two deteriorated and started a downward spiral that resulted in serious criticism of the current administration and nearly stopped the BRT as a whole. Something needed to change. The city decided to take a hard look at the data around it by using technology. The government was aware that there was a great deal of discontent being expressed on social media, but with AI, it was able to quantify and analyze the data to specify what was really upsetting the residents. To the surprise of the city, it learned that residents weren’t resisting the impact of construction; they were pushing back on the BRT system as a whole and they didn’t understand the city’s broader vision. With this kind of insight, the city adjusted its messaging, followed how residents responded, and was able to rebuild trust between city hall and the community. The result was not only that Ashdod succeeded in quieting a lot of the negative pushback, but public perception of the project as a whole was transformed. The project gained a majority of public support and the city was able to continue with it, this time with positive community feedback.

It is All in the Data

While city officials can expect some bumps in the road and complaints as part of residents’ day-to-day discourse with the city, there are some scenarios which can snowball beyond expectations. When that situation develops, it can feel like everything is out of control, especially when your residents’ displeasure comes in from every direction. None-the-less, it is possible to manage negative feedback loops with the use of technology to help clear the way through the sea of criticism. With the right tools, you can do even more and create a positive outcome for all.