Frances Bula, reporter with The Globe and Mail, interviewed Susanna Haas Lyons for the national newspaper’s recent article about public engagement with online tools. The new democracy: Surrey to launch online forum highlights a new tool for governments: an online community panel.

City Speaks is a partnership between the City of Surrey and interactive market researcher Vision Critical. Surrey residents and stakeholders who sign up to participate will be invited to share their opinion via online surveys and discussions, offering feedback to the City on the issues they care about most.

The new democracy: Surrey to launch online forum
Frances Bula
VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Apr. 04 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

As the world has turned to the Internet to have conversations, cities are trying to catch up.

To that end, Surrey decided to leapfrog ahead Wednesday with a new online forum that will be the first of its kind in Western Canada, part of growing efforts by civic governments to talk to their citizens.

Mayor Dianne Watts announced the city is kicking off a partnership with interactive market researcher Vision Critical aimed at getting thousands of Surrey residents and business owners to become part of a group ready to weigh in on everything from off-leash dog parks to new condo developments.

“These are popping up around the world,” said Susanna Haas Lyons, a Vancouver public-engagement specialist. “It’s helping to meet the needs of people who don’t have a lot of time but do want to participate.”

….

Ms. Lyons said that, while an online forum like Surrey’s can be a powerful tool for both residents and city staff and politicians, it has its limitations.

“You need to sign up and give information to a government entity. You will have some people with a higher degree of comfort with that and lower privacy thresholds and others that don’t have that. There can be some demographic splitting there.”