Posted: Last active:

  • Implement online platforms to improve your city

    Whether you’re a municipal employee or ordinary citizen, delivering feedback to your local government—and getting it from your fellow locals—can be a challenge, but online platforms are proving to be one good solution. Learn how one community in Kansas is getting online to put their ear to the ground.

    Setting: Citywide

    Want to try this?

    There may be some people who want to join you.

    1 Team in 1 country is discussing this right now. View Teams.

    Organization/people involved

    Cynthia Berner Harris, Director of Libraries
    Activate Wichita
    Wichita, Kansas, U.S.A.

    Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.A.

    What they did

    Activate Wichita, an “online conversation about the future of the Greater Wichita metropolitan area,” was created to address an issue identified by the city’s mayor and manager: in-person focus groups and community forums were no longer working to help local government stay in touch with citizens. Few people, and usually the same people, attended these events, and the city sought a larger and more diverse representation of the population. They decided to turn to online options and launched Activate Wichita in 2013; since then, it’s become a rich source of feedback from the community. The Wichita Public Library, given their existing engagement with the community and their role as a trusted resource, was charged with spearheading the project. The next year, they won the national LibraryAware Community Award, in large part because of this leadership.

    The platform the library chose to power the website is called MindMixer, a low-cost online engagement tool used by communities and institutions to gather feedback or ask for ideas. Over 700 entities have so far used MindMixer to bring the concept of a town meeting into a digital space and enable many more people to participate. Other communities have crafted their MindMixer website to be a space for improving the city generally (like San Francisco’s ImproveSF) or a way to express support or dissent for legislation (see Arizona Voices).

    Besides Wichita local government, other related departments and some nonprofits have also been able to use Activate Wichita to seek feedback: during a drought, the Department of Public Works and Utilities posed a question about what people would be willing to do to conserve water; Parks and Recreation asked people about their aquatics program; the Department of Finance shared a list of budget issues to see which ones people wanted to preserve; and the Tallgrass Film Association used the platform to get feedback on their programs.

    How you can do it


    The impact of Activate Wichita is probably best measured by the process changes it’s engendered. For one, the city’s government used to propose a plan to the community, then ask for feedback. If feedback pointed to any desired changes, they’d either have to go back to the drawing board, or else report that the changes could not be made. Now that they invite the community to think through issues collaboratively, people can be involved at an earlier stage, allowing adjustments to be made as the plan develops.

    Another result of the platform’s implementation is evident in how feedback can quickly affect offerings. For example, Activate Wichita asked the community about changes they would make at the public library, and heard from working parents that they preferred night and weekend children’s programming so they could attend with their kids. The library made that change and is now seeing better event attendance.

    A third impact is more conceptual. Cynthia tells us how Activate Wichita has changed her thinking about her field. “Librarians struggle with what the library of the future will be like,” she says. “Will there be physical buildings? Will there be books? Then we had an epiphany; the answer is as simple as this: the libraries of the future will be those engaged with their community. It’s not a question of buildings or books, it’s about the library doing more to interact and be engaged.”

    Also, keep in mind that an online platform brings a variety of people to the table who might not otherwise attend an in-person event—because of scheduling conflicts, shyness, or something else. Not everyone has time to attend a two-hour town hall meeting, or feels comfortable asking questions and giving their opinion in that kind of public space. Working online can help level the playing field.

    Big takeaways

    Don’t be afraid to take the leap. Some people in government might be afraid to ask questions because they fear the answers. But if you’re afraid, you’re probably not doing all you can do to create value for constituents.

    Photo credit: Wichita Public Library

    Log in for questions & comments
    Please make corrections before moving on.
    Please fill out {field}.

    Uh oh.

    Something unexpected just happened. Sorry!

    Please try again or contact us.

    Hmm... we couldn't find that place in our database.
    Are you sure it's correct? Yes No

    There was a problem signing in to your social account.

    The error code was: error code.

    If the problem persists, please contact us.

    Try again

    Sign in with:

    Next ››

    Log in

    Welcome back! Please enter your password.

    Forgot your password?

    Next ››

    Create your account

    Looks like you're new here. Sign up! Or, log in with a different email.

    ‹‹ Back Next ››

    Upload a photo

    Nice photo! (Change)

    ‹‹ Back Next ››

    Secure your account

    Please verify that you're a human. Type the text below:

    By clicking "Sign Up" you're agreeing to our Terms & Conditions

    ‹‹ Back


    Thanks for joining Idealist! We're glad to have you.

    Please check your email and click on the verification link we just sent you. Your registration won't be complete until you do.


    Thanks for joining the Idealist network!

    Welcome back!

    Please update your account details:

    ‹‹ Back Next ››

    You're almost there!

    We emailed you at with a verification link that you must click on to complete the sign up process.

    Resend the verification email

    Not you? Click here to become a Connector.

    You're almost there!

    We emailed you at with a verification link that you must click on to complete the sign up process.

    Resend the verification email

    Your profile is updated

    Thanks for updating your profile! You can add more detail, including your interests, skills, and experience later.

    We're glad to have you!

    Before you can be active in this community, you'll have to become a Connector. Take a moment to learn more about the role and agree to our shared values before continuing.

    Already a Connector? Log in
    Please make corrections before moving on.
    Please fill out {field}.
    Please enter your full name.
    Please let us know what to call you.
    Please enter your city.
    Please upload a photo.
    Please tell us where you live.
    Please enter a valid email address.
    Passwords must be at least 6 characters long.
    Email or password is incorrect.
    Please try filling out the captcha again.
    Please choose a profile photo.
    Name can be no longer than 128 characters.

    Forgot your password?

    Please enter your email so we can send you a reset link.

    We just sent an email to to reset your password.

    We just sent an email to to verify your account.

    Sorry, we ran into a problem with that.

    Choose Another

    Thank you!

    Please review this final commitment we are all making to one another, and click below.

    Working with others, in a spirit of generosity and mutual respect, I want to help build a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives.

    In my role as a Connector, I commit to:

    Please check the box to continue.
    Please check the boxes to continue.