Asking what the public thinks: CiviQ offers tech-based assistance

Asking what the public thinks: CiviQ offers tech-based assistance
Vanessa Liston, CEO and founder, CiviQ.

CiviQ offers tech-based assistance to groups engaged in public consultation processes, writes Trish Dromey

Using technology to gain insight on what the public thinks and wants, Maynooth company CiviQ says it can help local authorities and other organisations involved in public consultation processes avoid conflict and find consensus.

Last year it launched a platform called OpenInsights which has been devised to allow organisations using it to capture and visualise a full range of opinions and shared viewpoints on a given issue.

CEO and founder Vanessa Liston says CiviQ is now targeting local authorities as well as private companies with the technology.

“It can be used by local authorities, Government departments, and semi- state bodies, marketing and advertising research, and by anyone involved in a consultative process on an issue where there are differing opinions,” she said.

OpenInsights was used by CiviQ to study public opinion during the Eighth Amendment campaign last year. It is now being used by Fingal County Council to identify key public perspectives on the future of Dublin Airport.

Ms Liston says a report analysing this information will be delivered to the council within a few weeks.

She says the platform works by gathering views from submissions provided by the public as well as using information from the internet, social media, newspapers, and other sources.

The company, which is also a research organisation, operates by interviewing a representative sample of people holding different viewpoints and asking them to rank different viewpoints in order of importance from their viewpoint.

Ms Liston says that this allows CiviQ to identify the key perspectives or issues. “OpenInsights analyses and interprets participants’ ranking patterns to find insights into shared viewpoints, which can be used to help organisations negotiate or discover new options on an issue.”

According to Ms Liston, this approach to understanding public viewpoints is a significant advancement on traditional polls and surveys.

OpenInsights is the second product for CiviQ which launched OpenConsult in 2014, an interactive online consultation portal designed to make the consultation process more transparent. “It captures text and map-based submission data; it allows members of the public to research and query responses to the consultation and directly engage with other submissions made,” said Ms Liston.

This platform is now being used by eight local authorities around Ireland including one in Northern Ireland.

“It was used by Fingal County Council for public consultation about the development plan in 2014,” said Ms Liston, adding that it has also been used by private companies and by Government departments including the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Health.

While studying the participatory process for a Political Science PhD thesis in 2012, Ms Liston saw an opportunity to use technology to improve the democratic process.

Working with her CiviQ co-founder Mark O’Toole, she set out to create a tool which would enable people to respond to public consultations openly.

Registered in 2012, the company participated in the NDRC business incubator programme.

“The aim was to drive innovations in public consultation and public deliberation in order to foster open government and transparent policy and plan making. We launched OpenConsult in mid 2014 and won a tender for four Dublin city councils with the platform,” said Ms Liston, adding that it went live with Fingal and South Dublin county councils the following year.

Started with seed funding in 2014, the company has developed organically since then, using its revenue to grow.

With the launch of its second product, Ms Liston says CiviQ is now looking at expanding into new markets. It has already had discussions with councils in the UK although these plans are now on hold because of uncertainty about the outcome of Brexit.

“We are also looking at markets in both France and Germany. We are very excited about OpenInsights and see scope to develop sales in both the public and private sector,” she said.

Ms Liston says the aim for 2019 is to double staff size from five to 10, to increase turnover by 120%, and to fund-raise, establish a network of partners, and start exporting.

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