The City of Markham is continuing to innovate its digital strategy with Your Voice Markham, an online engagement portal for citizens. The platform is a new avenue for the city to unveil project plans as well as for citizens to voice their opinions and ideas for current and future projects, as they can submit those opinions and ideas to be publicly viewed on the platform.
The platform is part of a larger data strategy, dubbed Digital Markham, which included the digitization of over 70 services that the city provides.
Frank Scarpitti, the mayor of Markham, says this platform will be beneficial to both sides (government and citizens) and he believes this provides so much more than the usual methods of hearing from your community members.
“The reality is if you just rely on public meetings, you get a certain perspective from those that come to public meetings. But not everyone has time to do that. We want to make sure that we do hear the different perspectives when we work on various plans. It’s a wonderful way of really reaching a much broader audience and getting different perspectives,” said Scarpitti. “But also, this tool is used both ways. It gives you those links, gives you the updates, gives you the status of projects.”
From the government’s perspective, according to Scarpitti, projects like this can have benefits that extend beyond the opening of lines of communications. In fact, he says that they are also a means for governments to provide better service at lowers costs.
“It’s embracing technology where technology allows us to provide better service to our residents,” he said. “And also to save money. It’s got to accomplish both.”
There has been much outcry for governments to digitize their practices, but it is easy to tell that not much of that has been accomplished so far. When asked why Markham was so ahead of the curve, Scarpitti says innovative solutions like this are a byproduct of Markham being such a tech-oriented community, referencing the IBM headquarters, IBM software lab, AMD’s Markham office, and others as examples of tech companies that are part of the culture in Markham.
“I have to say it’s part of our culture here in the community,” said Scarpitti. “We are the second largest IT hub in Canada. So in part I think it’s the fabric of our community and what’s here.”
As citizens become expect more digitized services from their governments, Scarpitti does advise patience and caution to those governing bodies.
“I would just say take your time, do the research, and make sure that you’re implementing something that will have somewhat of a shelf life. Because just like any other investments, you want to make sure you get your return on investment.”