The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors got its first look at a new community engagement platform at a meeting Wednesday.
The site, Engage Albemarle, serves as “a virtual town hall which helps us organize and distribute content, gives participants the opportunity to be in discussion with us about issues, and gives us powerful data about what citizens think about some of the issues,” said county spokeswoman Lee Catlin.
The website operates through MindMixer, an Omaha, Nebraska-based web service company that provides a forum for community discussions. Catlin said Engage Albemarle would allow the Board of Supervisors to hear the voices of people who do not traditionally reach out to them via email.
Catlin said county staff chose MindMixer for its mapping capabilities, its ability to tap into archives from other communities, and its good integration with social media. She anticipates that new discussion questions on Engage Albemarle will be shared on the county’s Facebook page and Twitter feed, extending the site’s reach.
The county plans to post discussion questions and polls periodically to gather feedback from community members. The site currently has questions about the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the county’s communication methods, and area attractions.
In the coming months, Catlin said, the site would have one general question about the Comprehensive Plan and another reflecting a chapter of the plan that the board plans to consider in an upcoming meeting.
The website also has the capability to host idea submissions, surveys, instant polls, and even user-loaded pictures.
“We’re on the tip of the iceberg of the power of this,” Catlin said.
Anyone can view posts on the site, but only users logged in to Engage Albemarle are able to add their own comments. Catlin noted that the website has a “low barrier signup,” and users can log in using Facebook, LinkedIn, Google or other email.
The county has staff members designated to monitor the discussion topics as they are posted. Catlin said as an example that senior planner Elaine Echols would be tied into discussions about the Comprehensive Plan
“We expect there will be a lot of eyes on these comments,” Catlin said.
Catlin emphasized that Engage Albemarle is an addition to the county’s community engagement effort.
“This is not a replacement,” Catlin said. “This doesn’t take anything away. This is just one more net to throw out there. [Engage Albemarle] is a way to have a more effective and affordable outreach to a greater number of [people in] the community than our traditional methods.”
The website is available to the public at http://engage.albemarle.org.