Isn't it time public engagement tapped the power of local media?

The challenge of ‘if you build it they will come’
Since the dawn of digital engagement tools, public engagement has suffered from an echo chamber effect where a small handful of people dominate both the online and offline public involvement process. This makes outreach a key piece of any public involvement effort. 

Using Geography to Target

Using Geography to Target

Increasing participation by meeting people where they are
At we were founded with the intent of reaching people where they already congregate. To that end, we integrate with:

  • Social media to target specific demographics and geographies
  • Live meeting tools to capture responses from in-person events
  • Paper surveys for ‘old-school’ surveys by mail
  • Text messaging for residents on the go, or those without smartphones

But, we kept seeing one frontier that public engagement practitioners have yet to tackle - online news.

Why not meet residents when they’re reading local news? 
Local media has been consistently rated as the most trusted of all media. Yet it’s been difficult for local governments to leverage that trust. Newsrooms can include some links to local government sites, but adding interactive surveys and maps has been a non-starter for technical and logistical reasons.

A new boundary-spanning model
Enter’s news advertising module. Through partnerships with local media outlets, agencies on can now dynamically add their surveys into related news content. 

Our embedded script analyzes each article and tags key topics (like transportation, construction, traffic, and more). Staff can then target where residents should encounter the embedded survey and specify which geographic areas are included:

Media partners are not only compensated for the exposure they provide for key projects but also benefit from increased article engagement and social sharing.

GoTriangle’s Challenge
GoTriangle, the regional transit agency of the Raleigh-Durham area, was conducting follow-up outreach for the Wake Transit plan and needed to reach a broader Wake County audience.

Since our news partner,, was already covering the transit plan update GoTriangle saw an opportunity to leverage this new integration to embed their survey in articles.

An innovative solution
Using the news embed tools, GoTriangle’s survey was presented in-article alongside information about the plan. Readers were able to participate and respond on the page and then were directed to the full survey. 

See how it worked in this short video -

In GoTriangle’s case and in other early tests, the results have consistently shown that not only does this approach increase participation, but also diversifies the participants in each process. A combination of broad and deep involvement ensures defendable outcomes in projects and initiatives. 

Understand Who You're Reaching

Understand Who You're Reaching

Big possibilities
Imagine the next time you’re checking out rush hour traffic on the local news station, you encounter a survey about transit. While reading about a proposed development, you encounter an interactive explainer of community development ordinances.

This is the start of something fundamentally new in the civic tech space. We invite you to be part of that.

Next steps
We’re on boarding strategic media partners in markets where we serve numerous public agencies. If you’re in one of those markets, integrations can begin immediately.

Unsure if your media partner is on boarded? Drop us a note at
In cases where we don’t have an existing news relationship, we can activate your media toolkit to include embed snippets to include with press releases to allow for manual embedding in stories.

Interested in learning more about how can leverage local media for your initiatives? 

Get a demo of media integrations today

The Reach NC Data Dashboard

Over the past seven months, the has worked with the Reach NC Voices team to engage communities across the state on a range of issues including summer meals for our students, the state of the teaching profession, the state budget, and even their preferences for barbecue.

Typically, data collected in these circumstances would be tucked away in reports and spreadsheets, waiting for the right group to tap its value and tell a story. The Reach team aimed to change that.

Working with our partners at Public Input, Reach NC built the first iteration of the Reach Data Dashboard,  making it possible for members of our team to find and share insights from the data collected through text messaging, embedded news surveys,, and chatbots. It also makes it easier for our reporters and researchers to access the data and stories.

The dashboard is designed to bring together the data collected through Reach along with related public datasets. The results are highly visual insights that can be shared on social media or embedded on the web.

The Dashboard as a Data Hub:

The dashboard is designed for our team and our partners to quickly explore and understand the data we collect as part of statewide conversations and outreach. To the user, it operates like a searchable data feed.

To show a few highlights, we assembled some examples from a question we posed to citizens across North Carolina.

Case Study: Books at Home

As part of an education survey this summer, we asked questions regarding children's reading habits, motivation for learning, and how parents influence their children's learning.

We asked several questions including one aimed at parents:

Do you own books in your home?

We pushed this question out by embedding it in news articles on local news websites using Public Input, and by  asking our strategic partners and community to distribute it. 

The data dashboard allowed us to monitor the success of the questions and adjust our strategy for distribution throughout. After all, it is not much of a conversation if few people participate. 

We always pose a similar set of questions to ourselves: What are the results? Is every demographic and location participating? What is our margin of error?

Let's dig in to what we found.

Not Bad, but Work to be Done

Overall, we saw that most North Carolinians who responded stated that they had books in their home.

More likely in some places than others

We found that of the respondents, residents of New Hanover had the highest rate of homes without books of any county. In general, we see respondents in more rural counties were more likely to say that they did not have books in their home, while residents in the urban centers were fairly likely to say that they did have books in the home.

Side-by-Side Comparison

A comparison card option also gives our team the opportunity to compare data sets. The comparison card below contrasts how often parents read to their child and how important they feel it is to their child's development.

Does having books in a home matter? Those that we spoke with certainly think so. Sixty-seven percent of respondents think parental involvement in reading and learning is the most important aspect of child development. Yet we found 28 percent of the parents who participated in our conversation did not say that they read to their children.

The geography of opinion

To understand public opinion, place and demography must be considered.  One advantage of using the Public Input distribution tool is that they place questions with media outlets with broad audiences, such as WRAL. Using the mapping tool, we can see that in just a few days we were able to achieve respondents from nearly half of the state's counties:

Understand demography, visually

Using the dashboard's demographics visualizer, one sees that respondents mirrored overall NC demographics fairly closely. An embedded excerpt below shows the marital status of our participants contrasted with the marital status according to the census tract:

Other visualization options include age, race, education, and gender.

Deepening understanding with crosstabs

Cross-tabulation of questions helps us research and understand some of the underlying trends in our questions as well. These underlying trends and correlations help dig below the top line data as we try to understand what is really going on in communities.

From the data, it appears that not having books at home makes someone twice as likely to never read to their child.

This snapshot begins to show us the effects of not having books in the home on a child's likelihood of being exposed to books.

Bringing data to light

The Reach's dashboard tools brings the stories behind the data to light. It is the job of our reporters, researchers, and even you, our readers, to dig deep within the data to find the stories that matter.

Our ability to give more North Carolinians voices relies on more than simply reaching more individuals. We must bring those voices to the forefront by coalescing them into clear, understandable insights for everyone.

We believe part of our role is to serve as futurists. Tools like the data dashboard allow us to dig deep within the results of all of our conversations to see what is on the minds of our fellow citizens. We hope to better understand what is keeping them up at night, what inspires them, what motivates them, and ultimately where they think our state ought to go.

Ultimately, connecting people to policy and policy to people in our 21st century town hall will make a difference for all of our children.

Innovators Wanted: Now accepting beta partners for ‘Mayor Mode’

At, we’ve been quietly working on a solution to one of the most common issues we hear:

How do I report on things to the city manager? And what about these curious council members?

To that end, we’re excited to announce a new functionality called ‘Mayor Mode’ that’s rolling out today in closed beta on our platform.

We’re keeping this beta so we can focus our effort and attention on a handful of users interested in developing a dashboard for their stakeholders — such as the mayor, council, or city manager.

What is it, exactly?

At its core, Mayor Mode is an aggregate reporting dashboard that can be tailored and made accessible to specific stakeholders.

The early version focuses on a handful of key metrics:

  • Social Media Impressions & Interactions
  • Engagement over time
  • Online Participants
  • Social Media Activity
  • Meeting Attendance (via Kiosk & Meeting mode)
  • Map of Participant locations
  • Top Survey Questions & results
  • Top comments from residents

These can be segmented by time and department conducting the outreach.

‘Mayor Mode’ for a state transportation agency we work with

‘Mayor Mode’ for a state transportation agency we work with

Who can use this?

This can be tailored for specific stakeholders, but we’re first thinking about the stakeholders you primarily report to — i.e. City Managers, council members, and of course the mayor.

It’s designed to allow you to extend access to specific individuals via their verified email address. We also realize these stakeholders aren’t necessarily the most tech-savvy individuals, so you can also extend access using a unique access code.

How can I access it?

If you’re currently a customer, this is a menu item that our team can enable for you on the backend — just let us know at or

If you’re not currently a customer, you can still check it out via a GoToMeeting web demo. Fill out the form at and we’ll get you setup!

What comes next?

That’s the fun part. Because this is beta, and clients can enroll as beta partners, we’re going to evolve and improve Mayor Mode to meet your specific needs. Want to include email stats? Sure thing. Need more granularity? We can do that.

The direction of Mayor Mode, as with all we do at PublicInput, is in your hands. Together we can better connect decision-makers to the people they serve, and when that happens, communities win.

Get a free demo of Mayor Mode

How to get the most out of your online surveys

We are all about public engagement at, but more importantly effective public engagement. An important step of this is lowering the barrier to getting people’s input. So the question was posed, “are we getting the most out of our online surveys?”

As the Lead Data Scientist at PublicInput…I got excited. We hit the data and here are some of the high level points we came up with.

Our Test Case: ReachNC

ReachNC, a North Carolina statewide Initiative, has used our platform to aid their engagement. We’ve worked with Reach to push out surveys on WRAL and EducationNC, sent out surveys in email blasts to subscribers, and done widespread targeted Facebook outreach.

In all, Reach’s content and questions have been seen by over 2 million people around the state of North Carolina through PublicInput’s platform. They have received hundreds of thousands of votes and comments. This sheer quantity of data made them a good choice for a test case on what makes an effective online survey.

After some number crunching, we’ve compiled ways to improve response rates using the lessons we’ve learned with Reach. In this post, I’ll cover two in particular: Survey length and question type.

Survey Length

One of the major questions when making a survey online is how much can you ask a random respondent before they lose attention.


This chart shows us the responses per view we expect as we move deeper into the survey. Question 1 has a ‘response per view’ rate of 0.1. This means that it would take 10 views to get one response. While 10% may initially sound small, keep in mind that this is across millions of views, many of which were online advertisements. That’s actually about 30X higher engagement than average display ad.

Once someone has answered that first question things look a lot better. Question five gets as high as 0.7 responses per view. This is a great location to enter a lead question as we expect a drop off in responses to occur soon after.

For ReachNC, we are often looking to generate ‘leads’ where we ask for emails and phone numbers so we can continue the conversation. Creating a balance between gathering information and leads can be a challenge. Put the lead question too late and nobody makes it there, put it too early and you don’t gather enough information. This analysis shows us that 5 questions is a good limit to lead generation polling.

ReachNC also performs longer polls that are sent to groups that we expect will finish the entire survey. This is what leads to the uptick we see after question 8. This is less relevant in the discussion of online surveys aimed for any citizen.

Overall, if your goal is attracting the complete participation from the largest possible audience, the optimum survey length is 5–6 questions.

Longer surveys are fine, with the caveat that the most important questions should be placed toward the beginning of your survey.

Question Type

We have over 10 different types of questions that customers use to ask survey questions. The five most common question types that ReachNC uses are:

  • Single Choice Poll: Multiple Choice, select one
  • Multiple Choice Poll: Multiple Choice, select all that apply
  • Q and A: Multiple Choice question with a correct answer
  • Comment: Write in a comment
  • Short Comment: One Liner comment

Similar to the survey length analysis above, we looked at each of these areas for responses per view.


It is important to note that the number of data points for Multiple Choice Vote is limited — so the 0.85 number is somewhat inflated. Nonetheless, this follows closely to what we intuitively thought… asking the user to share free-form text generally creates the most drop-off.

Comment questions can yield valuable information, but they significantly slow user momentum on a survey. Using them wisely (definitely not as the opening question) can get you the value inherent in comment responses while still keeping your conversion rate high.

The most used questions by ReachNC, and many of our customers, are ‘Single Choice’ and ‘Comment’. We almost always start off with a Single Choice question as a low barrier way to get people to start taking the survey.

When looking at drop-off later in the survey (questions 2–10), conversion when using the single-vote question increases significantly, while ‘Comment’ questions question type conversion holds steady.

Keeping this in mind, it’s important to recognize the right point to ask for open-ended comments from your online participants.

We recommend placing open-ended questions only after your participants have answered the most critical single-choice questions for your survey.

This is a quick snapshot into one of the many ways in which we are improving the process through our Public Engagement Management System. We hope this high level information can help you create more effective surveys and enhance your public engagement and we would love to help you improve your online engagement!

Bryan Noreen
Lead Data Scientist


Visualizing Demography to quantify public engagement success

A recent public hearing for NCDOT’s I-440 project, which leverages — Photo Credit Ethan Hyman of the News & Observer

A recent public hearing for NCDOT’s I-440 project, which leverages — Photo Credit Ethan Hyman of the News & Observer

We hear the question almost weekly from clients doing public outreach on on planning initiatives and public projects:

“How do I know when I’ve heard from enough people?”

For many years, the answer to that question has been “it depends”. How many people came to the meetings? What do you know about your area’s residents? Do you feel like you heard from more than the usual suspects?

This month, we’re launching a breakthrough way to quantify public engagement success

It’s a project launched on as part of a partnership with Reach NC Voices, a statewide public engagement campaign by Blue Cross and EducationNC.

Reach NC is engaging urban and rural communities across the state, and wanted to be confident they were hearing from a comprehensive set of voices in each community they touched.

Demographic data on specific communities is readily available from the US Census Bureau, but that data is difficult to use in the context of community engagement. How do I connect it to my data? And what if my community spans multiple census blocks?

The solution came in the form of deep integration of census data sets into PublicInput’s respondent database. We connected every aspect of participant data to the relevant components in the census data, tying a user’s location, age, race, gender and more to the relevant census data.

The end result is a tool that gives you a clear picture of who’s participating, and more importantly, who’s missing.

Here’s a quick overview of how it works:

The data you collect through is contrasted with the known demography of your community to provide an interactive look at what groups are over-represented or missing altogether.

The data you collect through is contrasted with the known demography of your community to provide an interactive look at what groups are over-represented or missing altogether.

The data you collect through is contrasted with the known demography of your community to provide an interactive look at what groups are over-represented or missing altogether.

See it in action

Exploring demographic and engagement data with the tool

Automatic recommendations for how to improve

You may have noticed that in addition to offering you a visual look at your demography, it scores the quality of your sample and provides recommendations for improving it.

In the case of the example above, the sample data is pretty good. Here’s an example of one that needs improvement:

  Looks like bachelors degree holders were a bit over-represented!


Looks like bachelors degree holders were a bit over-represented!

Using these tools, you instantly know where your engagement efforts stand, and if there’s any groups you’re missing.

But what to do about the people we missed?

With, this age-old engagement problem is not an obstacle, but rather the path to success. You have integrated social media targeting to help you engage under-represented populations:

  Targeted social advertising interface for a client (OKI) in Cincinnati


Targeted social advertising interface for a client (OKI) in Cincinnati

Leveraging this “listen -> assess -> listen again” approach, you can understand more clearly what public engagement success means for your community. And since you can iterate quickly and report in real-time, you can achieve this success with a fraction of the time and resources typical of the public involvement process.

Meet Visual Demography’s Creator

This powerful new tool is the brainchild of PublicInput’s lead data scientist, Bryan Noreen. He joined the team this spring to help with the Reach NC Voices project, and has been contributing to the platform’s technical capabilities ever since.

Bryan Noreen — The brain behind Visual Demography

Bryan Noreen — The brain behind Visual Demography

Bryan is well-equipped to design complex analysis and data visualization tools. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, he majored in Mathematics and minored in computer science. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, he completed his Masters in Business Analytics at the University of Tennessee, where he graduated with honors.

While there, Bryan received a prestigious award from Booz Allen Hamilton for none other than… creating totally amazing data visualization tools.

This is starting to look like a trend.

If you’re on the development team for, you know that this trend from Bryan is definitely going to continue.

Buried one layer behind demographic visualization and sample scoring is a suite of tools that we’re building with Reach NC that will transform the way people collect and assess public opinion. That’s about all we can share for now — stay tuned because the best is yet to come.

Get a private demo

If you’d like to get a demo of how visual demography could bring clarity to your public engagement, head over to the demo page at