Everysay (by PublicSquare): The Why, Who, What

The PublicSquare Blog

By Yash Paliwal (Founder) | Background: I have been working on Everysay // PublicSquare formally since Jan 2019 and wanted to collect some thoughts on why our team is building Everysay, who are we building it for and what exactly are we trying to build.

  • Everysay (PublicSquare’s non-profit arm) aims to connect people directly to the policy decision making table through great journalism, technology and design.
  • Everysay aims to be the most effective feedback loop between any governance system and it’s related constituency.
  • Everysay is aimed at the city/municipal level because we believe that tangible change can be made more practically at the micro level in our bourgeoning national economies.

Why?

When we look at the numbers for national voter turnout across Canada (or any modern democracy), engagement hovers around the two-thirds mark pretty much across the board, with numbers for municipal voter turnout in cities like Toronto being even lower at around the one-thirds mark. This is appalling to say the least.

Everysay was born from a combination of my disengagement from the Canadian political system, along with the stark realization that technology can really bridge the gap that is left by our antiquated governance system. I started to realize that intelligence algorithms (like the ones used by every single social media platform) definitely can be designed to optimize for engagement on issues, rather than just trying to capture as much of our attention as possible by over-promoting sensationalist, click-bait content (*coughs* facebook, twitter, instagram *coughs*).

Over a couple years, my informal conversations on frustrations with the current system, turned into formal discussions around a product that can satiate the desire for a better policy engagement system. Early conversations revealed that in the Canadian political context, the segment where the most tangible change can be affected is the municipal level for the following reasons:

  1. Lack of partisan politics; at the provincial and federal levels, our representatives vote on legislature based on the decisions of the party leadership
  2. Tangible issues; federal level discussions tend be related to higher level ideas such as idealogical changes to our national laws, whereas, municipal policy tends to be more immediately applicable. Issues such a local housing costs and public transportation are generally more understandable to the average resident than the former.

Who?

When it comes to public policy, everyone is impacted, however, after 100s of conversations on the topic, it’s clear that there is great segmentation in terms of public policy engagement. Our simplified model for thinking about engagement breaks down the market into three categories:

We observe that there’s a very small number of people who are highly engaged in conversation with their representatives and feel satisfied with the experience. The vast majority seem to sit in the middle category wherein these users find themselves caring about some issues, but feel disgruntled with the cumbersome and antiquated nature of the feedback loop to our governance system (one vote every 4 years is very limited feedback). There’s also the third category of users who are highly disengaged and absolutely unconcerned with the governance of our cities/countries. As such, we’re most excited about that middle group, for whom we aim to move the needle on satisfaction with engagement.

That said, we long for a future, where engagement can be increased for all people. We hold that all people are stakeholders in our cities and should have their opinions valued. There are many challenges to this, but we believe that efforts can be made to at the very least bring more valuable opinions to the table. If done right, we believe this will allow for more ideal outcomes (public transportation systems that server far more people, housing affordability increased for the masses, etc.) and more efficient economics systems (faster and better communication/feedback means a better city, sooner).

What?

The most effective feedback loop between any governance system and it’s related constituency.

In the ideal world, we see Everysay(or platforms like Everysay) filling the communication gap that currently exists between governments and their constituents. Our current system is based on four-year election cycles where individuals’ involvement is generally limited to choosing one politician among an option of 2–4 tangible candidates is highly antiquated in it’s over-emphasis on people politics and individual egos. This system made sense when it was developed, during times when cities lacked instantaneous, mass communication technologies and largely evolved at a snail’s pace. So what may be a pragmatic solution that leverages modern day tech and accounts for the breakneck speeds at which our cities, national economics and lifestyles evolve?

Well, we envision a more effective feedback loop would entail the following:

  • Cut through the noise: One of the hypotheses behind Everysay is that the average individual really only cares about 3–4 issues at any given moment depending on which aspect of life they’re in and other factors. We want to use modern technology to deliver near instant, relevant updates on only those 3–4 issues to our users.
  • Relevant context: Unlike our current system, which is full of bureaucratic political jargon, in an ideal system, great efforts would be made to explain potential impacts of all political issues at play, and in a way so as to cater to every resident with their different contexts. A condo development at the intersection of Bathurst St. & Bloor St, effects a homeowner in the area differently, than a cyclist who regularly bikes along Bloor St.
  • Rich feedback: We are building an engaging survey system to gather rich feedback on tangible issues. Once we get past people politics, we can focus on how we want to build our cities, what are our biggest priorities/problems as a people and what values do we want to uphold in our communities. Once there are clear numbers on what are the biggest pinch points in our cities for the average citizen, it gets much easier to hold our public servants accountable to behave in a manner that’s best for the masses.

First Public Pilot: Housing in Toronto

With the above points in focus, we aim to build and launch our first public pilot focused on Housing in Toronto. By early June we’ll have Everysay for Housing live for Toronto residents to learn about the issues impacting them in Housing today. The feedback we collect during this pilot will be shared with city government, media outlets and the public as a whole.

Our goals for this pilot are as follows:

  1. Meaningful # of people engaged. We want our users to feel empowered with knowledge on how housing is being planned for in Toronto for the coming decade.
  2. Collect a significant amount of data and opinions. Using the built in survey system we want to collect data on how Torontonians feel about various tangible housing issues.
  3. Support HousingTO (Toronto Housing Action Plan). We want our efforts to supplement the deliberations happening at City Hall, by bringing more voices to the table in the form of structured data on Torontonians’ opinions about Housing issues.
  4. Further development of the Everysay engagement platform. Everysay is trying to build the ultimate feedback loop between governance and residents. We hope to use this pilot to further develop a platform that can successfully provide intelligent updates to and collect meaningful feedback from, residents of Toronto.



Policy / advocacy tools of the future.

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