ZenCity for Residents

ZenCity is a startup aiming to help local governments better understand citizen needs and make informed decisions based on those needs. We want to help cities be more in tune with and listen to the wide variety of feedback raised by their residents. 

We believe citizens are at the heart of any city government. Whether you’re a parent, a business owner, a high school student, new to the neighborhood, or a veteran of the area, you have a voice that should be heard and taken into account when your city makes decisions. We believe that these voices should be driving city planning and management on different levels.

That’s why we created ZenCity. Our team of city enthusiasts truly believes we all have an important role in shaping the cities we live in, but that we don’t necessarily have the platforms to do so in traditional channels. We realize people don’t always have the time or desire to be actively involved – to show up to town hall meetings, or answer a phone survey – if they’re even included. So we’re leveraging the big data revolution to make sure their voices are heard.

Here are the core principles behind ZenCity:

  1. We are here to help make citizens’ voices heard by local governments.
  2. We built our product to show the trends – meaning the “big picture” of what the community cares about, to make it actionable to the city.
  3. We only collect public data or data owned by the city, never private or personal data.
  4. That is why we also anonymize all of the data we collect – we want to show what are the issues, not who is posting.
  5. With our platform, cities have a measurable, data-driven way to listen to wide variety of voices in their community and act on them.

ZenCity is the game changer that makes sure our voices as citizens are heard by leveraging the existing channels citizens already use to share their comments and feedback.

We aggregate all kinds of different opinions, feedback and comments about things happening in your city and make sure they actually make it back to city hall. We do that by identifying relevant communication channels where citizens might be expressing themselves about their city, and then help the city process and analyze all of the data in these channels using Artificial Intelligence to recognize the meaningful issues and trends shared by the community. Our goal is to show the trends and topics that residents care about the most, as a community.

three

We aggregate and anonymize all of the data, and then automatically recognize the main topics and sentiment in the discussion – prioritized by volume of conversations.  We also alert about specific pressing issues if we see that they are trending, meaning lots of people in the community are discussing them.

We only take data that is either completely open and public (meaning everyone can see it with a google search) or owned by the city (like 311). We look at data from a combination of sources including official city channels like 311, which is the most natural place for a resident to report a classic complaint, official city Facebook and Twitter pages, and the city’s website. On the non-city managed side, we also look at data from open, public, social media channels, like public Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags and keywords. ZenCity doesn’t actually collect this information on any “human” level – this is automatically filtered out by our product.

We acknowledge that there has been a lot of misuse and abuse of data collected from Facebook recently, and as a company that actually tries to use technology for good, this has been disheartening for us. We believe in the power of data to drive smart governance and to enable cities to make decisions and spend based on what their citizens actually need and want. That’s why we have a very strong ethics code on how we collect and analyze that data:

  1. We only collect data from completely open outlets, such as pages and public groups, and keep only the content of the post  – not any information about the user posting it.
  2. We never look at data from private groups or personal profiles.
  3. We never keep or display any user or profile data at any point, or any other personal information.

In fact, we always anonymize all of our data. In the case of social media, we always anonymize the user posting and white out any names if they’re used or tagged in a comment or post. In the case of incorporating city data (such as 311), we never hold any PIIs in our system at any point.

Absolutely not. We look at data based on where it’s being posted not who is posting it. We don’t have access to and we don’t look at a user’s profile, city, state, or any private information. We only collect feedback that’s related to the city and we only collect it from places where we think citizens will be sharing publicly about their city, for example, on public community pages on Facebook or using specific hashtags or keywords on Twitter, or in public resident Facebook groups. We don’t care where you’re posting from! We just care if you’re providing feedback about something the city should know about – like education, municipal services, taxes, bike-lanes, or anything else – and we’ll only pick up on it if you provided the feedback in a public place where we think citizens like you might communicate.

Listening to the array of conversations on sources like Twitter and public Facebook groups democratizes city management process significantly, as many members of the community are active only on these channels and their voices are not heard in any other way.

When citizens don’t have a way to express themselves to their city – either because they don’t feel the city is listening to them as an individual, or because the city doesn’t provide a comfortable way or place to share thoughts, or for any other reason – they have no impact on service prioritization. By aggregating the priorities people share on sources like open groups, we, at ZenCity, can provide the city with a holistic view of its community’s needs and help the city deliver a much better service to their residents.

Absolutely. We are 100% compliant with the terms and conditions of Facebook, Twitter, and any other data source we use, and only work through the official APIs. We only look at public and open data, which we can only see with the access points given by the social media channels on which they’re posted.

It’s up to our local government clients to decide who in the city can see what data. For more information on who in your city is using the platform and how they’re using it, we recommend being in touch directly with the city. Although all of the data we collect is public data, we never share the data with anyone but your city and it’s up to them to decide what to do with the data and how they want to share it.

We have some really awesome examples of things cities have done with our product, by listening to residents like you. They range from bridging the gap between disgruntled parents and the School District, to shifting entire budgets based on citizen complaints. We have one city that kept a public park open, instead of re-purposing the land, so that the local Little League team could continue playing there, and another city that used us for crisis-management when a construction crane collapsed in the heart of downtown. Cities have used us to communicate about ballot measures, understand how to improve a car-sharing service, and engage citizens in addressing homelessness. We have a Mayor that uses us to prepare for neighborhood meetups, so that when she shows up, she can actually respond to resident concerns and engage in meaningful discourse. And we have a 311 Team that uses us to better-route their requests so that they can respond quicker and at a lower dollar value to city problems.

All in all, ZenCity is being used to improve the cities we live in. We get pretty excited about it when we start to list examples, and we hope you do too!

At the end of the day, there is some data that is city-owned, proprietary data that your city has given us access too – for example, 311 reports. Data that we look at from social media channels is actually owned by the social media channel itself.

First and foremost, share your input publically – both the positive and the negative. With Zencity you can know that once you share your feedback on the platforms most available to you, it will be heard by your local government. In some cases, your city will already be very active on social media and in other cases, you can actually be a community leader by raising issues that are important to you. You don’t have to call city hall or take time off work for a town-hall meeting if that’s not your thing, but we think those are great channels for communicating with your city as well.

If your city isn’t using ZenCity, and you wish they were, share our site and let them know it’s important to you that the city take into account your voice on an ongoing basis, not just at the ballot box.

We believe that by allowing your city to really understand what the most pressing needs are in your community, the city will be able to prioritize and optimize the services they provide and spend public resources more efficiently. Ultimately, we want to increase your city’s accountability to you, their resident and tax payer. Because if a city isn’t serving its citizens, then something needs to change.

Still have questions?
Wish your city was on board and actually making decision based on your voice?
We’re happy to help out and be in touch!