The development of Maptionnaire

The participatory mapping service Maptionnaire is one of the tools being used within the iResponse-project. It has been developed over the last 10 years and we asked CEO and project partner Anna Broberg to share some experiences and reflections.

Anna Broberg (Maptionnaire/Mapita)

1. How did the development of Maptionnaire come about? What motivated it?

It was back in 2005 when our founding mother Marketta Kyttä (now professor in Aalto University) started thinking of the possibilities of gathering civic feedback on a digital map, rather than placing stickers on a paper map in a public hearing. 

Maarit Kahila (now development manager) and I were working in Marketta’s team doing research on urban planning and perceived environment. We started developing ways for the public to record location-based comments, so as to make them genuinely accessible to planners.

The concept advanced as a research project, but it soon became clear that map-based questionnaires were needed widely throughout urban planning. The time was ripe for commercializing the innovation as Maptionnaire, a service that has now been on the market for 6 years.

The concept advanced as a research project but it soon became clear that map-based questionnaires were needed widely throughout urban planning.

2. What are you currently working on?

Our main objective is to gain international recognition for our work in gathering civic insight on a map and making public participation smoother. 

Obviously we also do constant development work with the service, but our main focus is in spreading the good practice to cities around the globe.

3. How do you work with users and stakeholders as part of the design and development?

We listen intently to what our users want and need - and what is difficult for them- and focus our development work accordingly. We work in an agile way and quickly prioritize new user needs when they arise. 

In consultancy projects we love to draft the survey in a meeting with the stakeholders, as we’ve noticed that this increases the quality of information gathered and gives people ownership of the project, increasing trust in the process and the results. 

We love to draft the survey sitting together with stakeholders, it increases the quality and gives people ownership and trust in the results. 

4. What are your biggest accomplishments so far? 

When starting, we programmed our questionnaires for specific projects, but now Maptionnaire is a platform, allowing anyone to develop and customize a mapping application. It is mature and well-tested, and lets the user concentrate on the content. 

People without any prior knowledge of GIS can work with it to create questionnaires that give them access to sources and information about public perceptions that are not otherwise available. This makes GIS supported participation project available for much larger audience than it was back when we started.

5. What has been the biggest challenge with designing and developing it?

We are constantly balancing between covering some of the more advanced needs that our customers have and keeping the service as simple as possible. 

Also it is a constant struggle to keep the tool fresh looking and enticing for the survey respondent, whose attention we all try to catch in the ever more hectic world of social media and other things people would rather be doing in the Internet. 

6. In you view, what are the advantages and challenges of crowdsourcing for urban planning, decision-making and research?

We firmly believe that the everyday users of any environment have a lot to say that someone should be listening to. And people are willing to contribute, some our biggest projects have gathered over 30,000 responses.   

At best, the use of crowdsourcing or making influential public participation can speed up the processes, increases public confidence, improves transparency and quality, and produces better results. It can even reduce the number of appeals against planning decisions.

Practices also need to be changed so that the data comes to use and doesn’t sit in a cupboard of a single planner.

The challenges lie in making crowdsourced information really work as a tool of making influential participation and good quality planning. It can be that the participation process is arranged only for the sake of having to do it, and there is no real interest in the data gathered. 

Practices also need to be changed so that the data comes to use and doesn’t sit in a cupboard of a single planner. Having data at your hands makes also possible the cherry picking, meaning you only take into account the response that reflects and supports what you were anyway going to do. 

7. Based on your experience, what are some areas where there is need for more knowledge in relation to crowdsourcing?

I think the key is to concentrate on the content, with which I mean that we should not be too overjoyed with the possibilities of new technologies, but rather try to think all the time what is the use and meaning of what we are doing.

8. What is your best advice for someone who wants to develop such services and tools? 

I think the essential thing is to start working with real-world customers as soon as possible. That is the way to understand the customer need and to become better in what you do. 

Also it needs to be fun and appealing. We have tried to make our service suitable for the person in the street. As a tool it needs to be so easy that it can be used without training and with little assistance. This also promotes scalability, if you aim to make it a global tool.

9...and who wants to work with ICT-enabled urban planning?

Technology is not the answer to problems of participatory planning; learning by doing and wanting to do good quality participation matters.

10. Take-aways  from the iResponse urban planning case so far?

I think we’ve learned that there needs to be not only need for crowdsourced information but also the will to make the processes and practices in urban planning handle that kind of information.