Two Canadian companies, Ethelo and Converso, are pleased to announce a new collaboration to address the challenges of public engagement during physical distancing. Their new Virtual Open House combines Ethelo’s proven digital group decision platform with Converso’s phone conferencing technology into a unique new engagement process that lets local governments bring thoughtful, all-access consultations to their communities.
The Ethelo-Converso partnership is a response to concerns around equity and accessibility as many democratic processes are forced to move online. While Canadians living in cities enjoy high levels of internet access, only 37% of rural households and 24% of Indigenous households in Canada have access to high-speed internet, while 26% of Canadians aged 65 or older report that they are not comfortable using online technology.
"Without in-person gatherings such as open houses for gathering feedback on policy decisions, certain voices are at risk of being left behind," says Ethelo CEO John Richardson. “Local governments face critical questions about how to best support their community members and businesses moving forward. With traditional approaches off the table, they need new ways to involve their residents in collective decision-making. It’s time for the tools of democracy to evolve.”
“When communities are facing major crises, such as COVID-19, it is critical for leaders to continue to make policy decisions based on a democratic mandate,” says Carl Mavromichalis, Managing Partner at Converso. “This can only happen if all representative voices have options to participate. By integrating online and offline technology, Virtual Open House gives community members the opportunity to engage in the way they are most comfortable.”
The practical value to Council comes by combining Converso’s ability to engage large groups using phones with Ethelo’s ability to align diverse stakeholders on complex decisions. As residents evaluate their options, weigh priorities, and make trade-offs, the feedback is analyzed using Ethelo’s patented algorithm to find outcomes with the broadest collective support. Participants and policy-makers can watch the group consensus emerge in real-time and local governments can get to work on the results right away.
From recruiting participants all the way to closing the loop, Ethelo and Converso will work with local governments at each step to provide comprehensive, universally-accessible consultations to their communities. Said CEO John Richardson, “By providing multiple channels for engagement, Virtual Open House ensures all residents are included in the decision-making processes that shape their everyday lives.”
Interested parties can learn more about Virtual Open House by visiting https://ethelo.com/virtual-open-house/
How does the Virtual Open House work?
The Virtual Open House collaboration is a multiple step process. Once a local government decides they want to hold an engagement through Virtual Open House, Ethelo and Converso use web- and telephone-based participant recruitment to bring in a diverse spectrum of residents. The consultation then launches with a live-streamed introductory event to officially invite community feedback. With Converso’s ability to set up mass-scale conference calls, participants without Internet can listen in and ask questions over the phone.
After the launch event, all participants have 2-3 weeks to provide feedback using several options: via Ethelo’s online user-friendly platform; through a hard copy pen and paper package; or by going through the questions over the phone with a “tele-concierge”. There are also opportunities to participate in small deliberative dialogue sessions over the phone or by video, allowing residents to discuss the issues with their neighbors as they would in face-to-face conversations.
Ethelo is a social enterprise comprised of two partner organizations; Ethelo Decisions, the technology company behind the Ethelo collaboration platform, and eDemocracy Solutions, the founding nonprofit dedicated to online participatory democracy. Ethelo provides a unique online decision platform for governments that enables citizens to solve complex, contentious problems in a fair and democratic manner.
Converso is a leading provider of virtual town hall services in Canada since 2016. We help our clients reach out to and inspire their audiences, whether there are 500 or 500,000. Our mission is to help enhance our clients’ reputations with their most important stakeholders.