City of Kitchener Uses Visual Appeal to Simplify Planning Project

September 26, 2016 – OpenGov


They say a picture is worth a thousand words—and anyone who works in the jargony world of urban planning likely knows that’s all too true.

For example, ask someone what they think of “mixed-use spaces”, and you might get a blank stare. But show them a photo of a bustling shopping center with some nice apartments on top, and you’ll see it click.

“It’s very difficult to get designs across without visuals,” explains Adam Clark, Design and Visualization Analyst for the city of Kitchener. “Concepts are complex, but images help make it more approachable.”

That’s precisely why the city of Kitchener decided to put an emphasis on visuals when they recently collected online feedback about tall buildings in the community.

By using our annotation topic type, Kitchener staff were able to create an online exercise that let people review all sorts of helpful design drawings and photos—and then comment on them. That format gave people people the option to only focus on the areas that interested them most.

“Because they were able to choose what they could comment on, we got better quality feedback—it was more detailed, more thought-out, more considered and specific,” said Dayna Edwards, Urban Design Planner for the city of Kitchener. “In some cases, people took the opportunity to write full paragraphs of opinions.”

In contrast, if Kitchener staff had created a multiple-choice survey, they would have missed out on that level of feedback. This approach also allowed them to incorporate pop-up photos to show some real-world design examples.

“It gets people thinking of their own experiences when they see pictures, and that helps produce more valuable feedback,” added Josh Joseph, Community Engagement Consultant for the city of Kitchener.

Kitchener staff further simplified the topic by avoiding any planning jargon, and using everyday terms. Case in point: they simply asked for feedback about “tall buildings” instead of calling them “high-density developments,” or something else technical.

In this case, the Kitchener communications team took the lead on making sure all the language was straightforward. Don’t have a communications team? If you need help simplifying your next online topic, we encourage you to work with your Customer Success Manager

The takeaway here is that this topic could have easily been a ho-hum survey. But, Kitchener staff made it much more engaging by creating an exercise with lots of visuals and simple language everyone could understand. Please remember we’re always happy to help you explore and develop new ways to simplify your online outreach with an approach like this.