Citizen feedback is essential to a healthy democracy. But holding in-person meetings can be expensive, time-consuming, and often don’t capture representative feedback. For many residents — such as those who work hours other than 9-to-5 — the two+ hours required to attend a community meeting in person can be a significant barrier to participation.

After brainstorming with our partners at the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, we decided to build a better way. Textizen is a simple, yet powerful platform for collecting citizen feedback via text message. Now, all residents and community members need is a few spare moments and a cell phone that supports text messages (the CDC estimates this to be 92 percent of Philadelphia households). In a city where 42 percent of residents don’t have internet access at home, we see text messaging and other mobile technologies as critical doorways to digital citizen participation.

The first set of surveys are now underway as part of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission’s ongoing Philadelphia2035 initiative. They ask questions about transportation, recreation, and quality of life.

  1. Would you use rapid transit along the Boulevard to get to Center City?
  2. What would make Center City more kid-friendly?
  3. How do you mainly use city recreation sites?

For us, this project is especially exciting: by connecting citizens with those who write the future of the city’s built environment, we’re helping Philadelphians shape the future of their city. Most of all, we believe the idea is simple and powerful enough to spread to other cities. Do you see a use for Textizen in your community? Get it in touch with us on Twitter, or at Textizen.com. Developers can join us on GitHub, where we’ll continue to develop the Textizen code.