We’re seeing increasingly widespread discussion about things like placemaking and citizen-centric smart cities as a way to improve quality of life for people and to guide public planning and decision-making processes.

As this conversation around what makes for effective placemaking grows, a consistent theme is emerging: the importance of citizen engagement/involvement/participation to the process.

And there’s a growing recognition of the need and the opportunity for that public involvement to have a digital component.

The need is straightforward enough: there’s more or less an established expectation now of being able to interact with government online as well as off-. It would feel deliberately obtuse in 2015 to invite public input without an online means of response.

The aspirational opportunity is probably more interesting. There are a couple of big advantages ‘baked in’ to online involvement which are especially relevant to good placemaking:

1) Scale
It’s much easier to take digital things to scale cost-efficiently. You can open up one online platform and it will barely affect your upfront costs if 10 or 10,000 people turn up to participate. That simply can’t be the case with, for example, face-to-face focus groups. Online involvement suddenly makes mass participation affordable.

2) Any-time participation
Because most methods of online interaction don’t require you to be in a certain place at a certain time to get involved, the pool of potential participants is much broader. It’s almost impossible to find times and places for in-person events that don’t effectively preclude certain audiences: say, night-shift workers or those with limited mobility or parents of young children. Online tools mean that people can participate in a time and place that suits them.

Given even just these two factors, it’s no surprise to see an appetite for online public involvement as part of the growing conversation around placemaking and smart cities. These trends value engaging a large number and wide range of people in the decisions about where they live – consequently, providing a digital space where any number of citizens can get involved on their own terms seems like a no-brainer.

We’ve already seen several government organisations use Dialogue for exactly this purpose: Bristol City Council invited ideas for improving the city; Edmonton asked citizens for input on its Complete Streets plans; Forestry Commission regularly get feedback from woodland users on making the most of the spaces they manage.

We’re interested in talking to more people in this space. If, like us, you think online public involvement opens up some really interesting opportunities for placemaking and smart cities, say hello on Twitter or drop us a line.