Tai HuynhOctober 24, 2019

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Because local government professionals are under-resourced and overworked, municipalities lack the capacity to make sense of the large amounts of public input they have to collect. As a result, they have difficulty designing and implementing municipal services based on the lived experiences of their constituents.

Acta’s turnkey solution helps local governments extract insights from constituent input faster and at a lower cost.

By using machine learning to comprehend free-form comments, our tool is able to quickly generate actionable reports detailing constituents’ key concerns and priorities.

Not only do we build the capacity for municipalities to understand the content of constituent input, but we also provide them with tools to design smarter surveys to get better feedback, identify missing perspectives, and communicate back to constituents how their feedback directly informs public solutions. We help close the feedback loop between residents and governments by giving municipalities the understated gifts of feedback.

  • Use feedback to get more feedback – Asking the right questions is tough. We’ve found that local governments want insightful feedback on specific projects or proposals, but don’t know what residents are talking about in the first place. Currently, local governments cast wide nets, and hope that they receive a handful of comments that are specific enough to be useful. However, the wide net approach should be the first step, not the only step. By automating feedback analysis using natural language processing, we look at responses to broad, general questions for specific trends and topics. We then use these insights to generate more focused surveys that tie resident dialogue to specific municipal projects design and implementation.

For example, one of our clients wants to build and diversify their entrepreneurial ecosystem. They hosted a focus group with key stakeholders, and asked us to analyze feedback from this session to generate insights about how they should move forward with the project, and to use our insights to design surveys for future engagement.

From our project-specific analysis, our local government clients see great value in our service because it collects feedback specific to their projects and policy.

Analyzing feedback for key insights is a way to generate smarter surveys and engagement tools that get at the core of an issue.

  • Feedback as a conversation: Who’s missing? – Our automated and objective feedback analysis tool allows us to map resident feedback for the following insights: Where is there consensus? What perspectives keep showing up? What topics and trends are most prominent? How do residents/stakeholders feel about certain issues? Our comprehensive birds’ eye picture of stakeholder dialogue also allows us to see what’s missing–what perspectives or groups of people are not featured in the data? From these insights, we can work with local governments to come up with an engagement strategy that actively seeks out underrepresented perspectives. From our experience, we’ve learned that feedback analysis is also an insight into who’s missing from the conversation.
  • I gave feedback…now what? – Feedback is a gift. Especially to local governments who rely on resident input to design and implement effective solutions to persisting urban problems. However, local governments struggle to communicate to residents how their input was factored into a final decision. As a result, residents can’t see how their feedback directly informed a project, and are less motivated to give good feedback in the future. That’s where we come in. We transform our feedback analysis into an easily digestible and accessible product so that stakeholders can see exactly how their feedback was used to arrive at a public solution. We’ve learned that trust between residents and government erodes when residents keep giving input, but never see the fruits of their participation. When we start treating feedback as a gift, and thank residents for their opinions by showing them that it matters in the public process, we build effective solutions to problems ranging from affordable housing to economic development.

In our work, we talk to both residents and local governments that experience issues at opposite ends of the feedback loop. Local governments strive to use constituent feedback effectively, and incorporate diverse voices, but struggle to focus their efforts because they are overworked and under-resourced. Residents want to participate, but question the extent to which their input matters.

Automating feedback analysis has allowed us to uncover the understated gifts of feedback. These gifts are the capacity to include historically excluded communities, and ask the right questions while showing residents exactly how their feedback was used to design solutions to problems they face everyday.


Shondra Muhammad

I’m a first-generation Asian-American and a first-generation college student. I’m currently a Morehead-Cain Scholar at UNC Chapel-Hill majoring in Computer Science with minors in Anthropology and Business. I’ve worked in the local government space for six years. I co-founded acta with the initial intention of improving local government by leveraging emerging technologies. Through many pivots and iterations, we now help local government clients extract actionable insights from constituent feedback.

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