Free Tools to Digitize your Community Planning

Drawing representing people connected via text message

Across the world and nation, public gatherings are getting canceled due to the exponential spread of the coronavirus. With the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic last week, we can’t help but think of all the community engagement gatherings that have been postponed or canceled until further notice. These meetings are critical to communities, serving as opportunities to foster collaboration, civic engagement, and vocalize community needs. You may not think of community meetings as opportunities to collect data, but they are. 

These events are publicly documented, in some cases recorded, and shared online with the public. The end result is thousands of qualitative data points that are used to shape policy, approve community plans, and even impact local community board budgets. With canceled events for communities, this means we are losing several opportunities to collect the voice of the community and synthesize these points to use for policy advocacy. Even the U.S. Census, a once-in-a-decade opportunity to collect critical data is now concerned with their feasibility to collect data with this growing public health issue. 

With a great potential impact on the local level, we wanted to share our guide to digitized community planning for community boards, block associations, and local governments. Consider it community planning 2.0; engage, collect data, and synthesize the voice of your community all through digital tools. 

Here are four free tools local residents and electeds can use to digitize your community planning process:

  1. Airtable

    Oftentimes project management can be challenging, especially if you don’t have the right tool in hand. A number of tools come with a steep cost or a monthly subscription that may require you to submit paperwork to use. This is why we see Airtable as a great solution for project management. Think of Airtable of a spreadsheet with superpowers: you can project manage, assign people to tasks, add in contact information and more. Check out their project management templates here.  

  2. Zoom Communications

    With the rise of social distancing, how do we get 100 people in a room at once to discuss local issues: Zoom Video Conferencing. You probably have heard people talking about Zoom over the past couple of weeks. It’s because they are one of the tech companies growing due to their product offerings which are ideal for this situation. Zoom is easy to set up, people can click a link and sign in, you can have up to 100 people on a call, and their technology makes video communication more seamless than other tools. Read their best practices guide here.

  3. Synergize Insights

    Collecting & recorded data for communities is a fantastic way to advocate for policy. Without in person meetings, the opportunity to collect this data becomes slimmer –yet advocacy never stops. Synergize Insights provides communities and local electeds with a free tool to create SMS surveys and receive weekly emails with survey responses. Onboarding is free and 3 weeks after signup, you receive a unique phone number and outreach fliers in multiple languages. After this, you can email your community to text message the word “Hi” to this unique phone number and our chatbot will respond with questions. Their answers are recorded as data and shared with you weekly. Sign up to onboard for this tool here.

  4. Google Docs

    Writing out notes or plans for the community and need input? Google Docs is a share-able and free tool to draft out plans. All gmail users have access to the Gsuite with Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides —all of which can be shared.  For longer term shifts to Google Docs, read these case studies on how four cities transitioned to the Gsuite permanently.

We know governments mandate which technologies are used, but there can be opportunities to try new products given the immediate changes that are happening. Announcements about public gatherings are changing on an hourly basis, so we hope this resource provides short-term and in some cases long-term solutions that can ensure your community is connected during this time. 

Scroll to Top