Emanuel aims to create ‘Idea Portal’ with polling potential

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Like his predecessor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel does private polling to gauge the popularity and political fall-out of his public decisions.

Now, City Hall is moving to create a built-in mechanism for soliciting ideas about how to deliver city services, then polling residents and businesses on the most popular proposals.

That’s the focus of a so-called “Idea Portal” that Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology is attempting to create.

In a “request for quotation” due next week, the department is soliciting firms with expertise to develop two websites “where city employees and the public can provide input, suggestions and ideas to improve the quality of city services, reduce wait times and reduce costs” to Chicago taxpayers.

“The city will post ‘campaigns’ on each site to engage with users. Campaigns may include specific questions, polls, town halls or other forms of direct engagement,” the solicitation states.

The public idea portal would be open to Chicago residents and businesses.

Users who register, using their full names and e-mail addresses, would be free to post ideas of their own, vote on ideas suggested by others, respond to “multiple-choice polls” created by the city and participate in “live town hall events that would allow registered users to “submit questions” to city officials “who will respond through live-stream video,” the document states.

Each website would consist of a home page, an “unlimited” number of “campaign pages” and leader boards of active users and the most popular ideas, the solicitation states. Each campaign may include a “judging panel” to gauge the popularity of ideas.

“Users should have the ability to express their ideas in direct response to campaigns posted by the city. They should be able to: engage with other users; like or up-vote posted ideas or comments; upload images of their ideas and pin ideas to a location or interactive map,” the solicitation states.

Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman could not be reached to explain how the “Idea portal” differed from Emanuel’s proposal to turn a 311 non-emergency number that fields roughly 3.4 million calls-a-year into more of a two-way street.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) called the Idea Portal a “great idea” that promotes a far more “responsible” conversation than the anonymous complaints posted on the blog known as EveryBlock.

“If you want to de-mystify service delivery and remove clout, this is the way to do it,” the alderman said.

Pawar said he was not at all troubled by the idea of polling residents and businesses at city expense.

“All of it can be used as politics. Being responsive to your constituents by providing good public service is always good politics. But if you want to keep your finger on the pulse of where people are in services, you need to find ways to engage them,” Pawar said.

“Participatory budgeting is polling, too. It’s allowing people to vote on projects they want to see move forward in their wards. This is no different. I don’t believe the intent is to give politicians an approval number on their performance. It’s to gauge peoples’ satisfaction on service delivery [and ask], `Can things be done better and, if so, how?’ “

Last fall, City Hall issued a request for proposals for what it called a “constituent relationship management modernization software and implementation” for a 311 system that hasn’t been overhauled since its launch nearly 15 years ago.

Respondents were asked to “identify bi-directional channels to collect and process feedback and develop tactics to build common ground” with residents. They were also required to use “predictive analytics” to improve service delivery, help managers spot trends and allocate shrinking resources.

“Whether residents prefer using phone text, tweet or web self-service email, they can submit their ideas, questions, requests, suggestions and feedback through any channel and know that the city is listening and will respond,” the city’s RFP states.

“The city wants a 360-degree view of the resident while ensuring that all relevant privacy and security guidelines are followed.”

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