City’s software promotes conversation with residents

GREENFIELD — Public meetings rarely draw a crowd to city hall, but when a city announcement is posted online, citizens have plenty to say from the comfort of their keyboards.

Officials said they hope a new subscription to MySidewalk, a data-gathering software program, will allow them to harness that energy and engage with residents online while providing updates about city projects that benefit from public feedback.

MySidewalk uses Census, election and U.S. Department of Commerce data to equip community leaders with information about the people living in their communities while providing a platform for conversation.

It will be helpful as city officials move forward with efforts to enhance the quality of life in Greenfield, city planner and zoning administrator Joanie Fitzwater told the board of works and public safety this week.

When working on projects to improve the city, community stakeholders often look for public input, which isn’t always easy to get, Fitzwater said.

Studies show only 9 percent of adults attend a public meeting each year, Fitzwater told the board of works this week.

MySidewalk will help her office and other city departments meet residents where they are — online.

The city will be able to create a community hub site, where officials can post information, such as updates on city projects, as well as garner input through open-ended questions or polls, according to MySidewalk.com.

Earlier this year, the planning office used the website to post questions related to its comprehensive plan update. The office asked residents about what they do on weekends and where and whether they bike in Greenfield.

Residents were able to answer the questions and interact with each others’ posts, much like they do on other social media websites.

Fitzwater is excited the program will provide her office with targeted information about Greenfield as well as create a place for conversations to begin among residents.

The program tracks geographical information as detailed as the makeup of neighborhoods — the ages of people living there, how many people own homes and how long they’ve lived there — to broader information about the population makeup of the city.

That focused information will be helpful when the planning office applies for various grants, whose applications often require detailed information about the community’s population, Fitzwater said. Historically, her office has had to find that information by digging through data, such as the Census.

Last year, the city council approved funding for a community research program to equip the planning office with easy access to community information it often needs — MySidewalk will put that information at employees’ fingertips, Fitzwater said. On Tuesday, the board of works approved a 1-year subscription with MySidewalk for $4,800.

After the subscription is up, city officials will be able to decide if it’s useful enough to renew, Mayor Chuck Fewell said.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.