Here at EcoPlan, we’re always on the look-out for new and innovative ideas for community engagement. Seems like there are more options everyday, especially online models. To keep an eye on these, we’re going to start an “engagement technology round-up” feature here on our blog. Feel free to send us ideas on technologies you are using or thinking about. MindMixer is one of many new additions to the landscape of online community engagement tools.

Developed by two planners from Omaha grappling with what they saw as a broken model for city planning, MindMixer provides a digital platform for citizens to participate in decisions large and small.¬†Similar to many online engagement tools, MindMixer allows users to post specific projects or planning challenges, share ideas and collect opinions. There is additional functionality to vote for and prioritize actions – helpful for moving past the “ideas” stage, to action.

MindMixer deals up front with an issue that many online solutions evade – the importance of content. Content, as well as context, they say, are the 2 C’s of successful engagement. Without them, technologies will fail. This is true of any engagement effort – online or off. But it’s not always that simple. It’s one thing to create content, it’s another thing all together to create meaningful content (and, most importantly, content that inspires meaningful participation in decisions). That’s perhaps where the context piece comes in. In order for these tools to support meaningful and robust decision-making, they need to acknowledge the bigger picture. How does this decision relate to another? By choosing one path are we compromising on another? What are the trade-offs? After all, almost every decision happens within a context of limited resources. We can’t do everything, so what do we do first and why? WHY – is the big question.

A planning framework needs to challenge decision-makers to answer that question, in a way that speaks to fundamental objectives, and in a way that can be consistent across decisions. Because it’s just getting started, it’s still unclear how MindMixer‘s voting and prioritization functions will work, but it would be neat to see how these could help users link to the bigger picture and objectives, instead of simply picking favorites. We’ll be following…