Use Cases: How West Sacramento is Using Data to Address the Challenges of Democracy in the Modern World

This year, at Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley 2018, held in Santa Clara, California, one of the guiding themes was “People First Cities.” In this context, West Sacramento, ZenCity’s first, pioneering US client, presented on “The Citizen-Centric Smart City (and How to Make Sure we Reach all Corners of Society)” panel. Jon Robinson, West Sac’s Deputy City Manager, focused his presentation on how ZenCity is helping to overcome the challenges of democracy in the modern day. Jon discussed why they’re using ZenCity, use cases for the platform, and how ZenCity’s technology has helped catapult the City forward in its ability to measure outcomes. We’ve recapped his presentation for you below, and there’s also a link to the panel itself at the end of this blog.

The Challenge: How to Make Democracy Accessible to Everyone?

West Sacramento’s Mayor, Christopher Cabaldon, has a strong vision centered on addressing the challenges of democracy in today’s modern world. One of the core elements of this vision includes solutions that make democracy accessible to everyone, and especially those for whom classic citizen engagement tools aren’t easily available. For example, residents working two jobs, single moms that can’t get out at night, or even your average citizen who just doesn't have time to attend a city committee meeting. The challenge for the city then becomes: how does the city find out, beyond voting, what its residents need and want, especially those residents who are less vocal? Moreover, how can the city deliver on this in real time?

This technology is far beyond where we were before in tuning in to our citizens.”

The Solution: Using ZenCity to Listen to the Community as a Whole

West Sacramento is helping to make democracy more accessible by trying to do a better job of listening to its broader community, rather than just the voices of the select few, like those who call up the city and complain a lot, or the usual suspects that frequent town hall meetings. They’re doing this using ZenCity. With ZenCity, West Sac is leveraging the data that’s already out there, in addition to using traditional tools like city meetings, to try to get a sense of the actual sentiment that’s going on in their community. ZenCity, as a social listening tool, has been helpful for the city because it both enables it to do a better job of understanding its residents based on what they’re expressing on publicly available sites, and the platform integrates this data with West Sac’s online CRM system. This means they are listening to both formal and informal channels where their residents are communicating and expressing themselves.

Who’s Talking in West Sacramento?

In an average month in West Sacramento, citizens have close to 20,000 interactions online (likes/retweets/posts etc.) on city-related issues. Over 50% of these conversations are not in direct reaction to local government media channels but take place in resident groups, on Twitter, and in other open, public forums.

“The use case I’m most excited about is using this technology to begin to assess the impact of activities that we’ve done in the community that previously were hard to measure on an outcome basis.” 

3 Ways West Sacramento Is Using Zencity’s Technology to Improve Their Ability as a City to Truly Address Their Citizens

West Sacramento first partnered with ZenCity in fall of 2017. Since then, it’s divided its use cases into three main buckets.

Use Case 1: Connecting to all elements of the community every day

West Sacramento already conducts surveys, hosts focus groups, and holds public meetings. They then use ZenCity as an important tool for augmenting these other methods. ZenCity allows the City to listen to all of its residents - the more and the less engaged. By listening on a daily basis, leaders in West Sacramento can “see what’s coming, what is upsetting people,” and has a better understanding of “what [their] citizens like and what they don’t like in a way that’s broader than just [their] CRM system or just the meetings that [the City] holds.”

Use Case 2: Assessing the effectiveness of the City’s communication strategy

Beyond the metrics that are built into Twitter and Google, ZenCity, as a tool, helps the City test its communication. The City measures ambient levels of discourse before and after events or campaigns and watches what happens to discourse in the city across different platforms in terms of sentiment, volume, and more. Jon also discussed how useful heat maps were in understanding what areas of the city are being discussed and where different topics are arising. For example, West Sac looks at where in the community people are talking about homelessness, where people are talking about recycling, where people are talking about sports events, and so forth. That information is then channeled back to specific departments in city hall so that the departments can really relate their different initiatives to different areas in the community.

Use Case 3: Assessing the impact of activities that were previously hard to measure

Finally,  Jon expressed a lot of excitement about how they're using ZenCity as a performance management tool, particularly in terms of measuring previously hard-to-measure outcomes. Jon gave the example of homelessness. “One of things that we do when we identify a homeless camp,” he explained, “is to help the people in the camp find services. As we move people out of the camp, we usually end up with an enormous amount of debris and so we have to clean that up.” Last year, the City cleaned up over 2,000 cubic yards of debris from those efforts! They then sought to learn whether all of this cleaning up was actually having an impact. “Are we just moving garbage and making things better hygienically, or are people actually perceiving that they are safer and feeling more positive about the community?” Jon asked.

West Sacramento used ZenCity to help answer these questions, and in fact, they did see an interesting relationship where the volume of discourse around homelessness went down as the amount of garbage that the was cleaned went up. The City was then able to conclude that indeed,as the garbage got cleaned up, people tended to talk less about homelessness so the issue became less prominent.

“We’re really excited about using ZenCity so we’re not just measuring the city’s physical outputs and we can really get to the outcome, one of which should be how people feel about what we are doing.”

Jon concluded by talking about how excited the City of West Sacramento is to continue using ZenCity as a tool to better listen to all of its residents. You can watch the full presentation here.


Inbal Naveh Safir

Written by Inbal Naveh Safir

Marketing Pro
A San Francisco Bay Area native, I fell in love with the Tel Aviv beaches and never left. I'm excited about technology for good, local government, and good food, and I'm hopelessly devoted to my adorable toddler, Leo.