Map-based surveys: How can they inspire us to make Decidim more user-friendly?
These past few months, we've worked with a few projects with a new kind of needs where Decidim isn't meeting our needs and we find ourselves looking at more specialised tools.
I wanted to open a discussion because I think some of the functions and approaches of these tools could be interesting to bring back to Decidim. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts.
I'm not sure there is a name for the type of tools I'm gonna talk about here so I'll come up with one: map-based surveys.
In essence, they are surveys in which geographical data can be collected. Which in itself isn't something that Decidim can do, although Decidim Awesome's latest update is getting closer to it. But the starting point here is a map zooming on an area on which a user can put a pin.
Oftentimes, these tools take it one step further as the map is the central support of the survey, on which the user can put different kinds of pins, sometimes shapes. And for each of them, they will get asked follow-up questions. This is maybe the biggest difference with Decidim's surveys which are supposed to be linear.
Finally, these tools also usually feature some form of automated report through some visualisations of the result, in addition to the map itself.
A few examples
An example is worth a thousands pictures so I thought I'd list a few of them here. Feel free to try them out to get a sense of what I tried to describe.
- Maptionnaire (list with a few example surveys)
- Placetoplan (example)
- Mapx (example, pick the test survey and click on 'Börja')
There seem to be a lot of these solutions, many focusing on humanitarian use cases (Kobo Toolbox being popular and open source)
Things that could be interesting for Decidim
- Allowing the user to pin places on a map in a survey
- Allowing pictures in surveys, with the question or the answer texts
- Using the map as a support to show information while collecting it through some sort of interactive storytelling, with added layers added from the backend
The exclusive use of surveys to gather citizen knowledge is problematic, as it establishes a clear hierarchy between the participants who give their local information and the civil servants/researchers/politicians who are the only ones smart and legitimate enough to analyse that raw material and turn it into a plan.
This vision of citizen engagement is a cornerstone of these tools and I am not surprised of their popularity in the Nordics, a region where representative democracy and technocratic public administrations are at their strongest.
That being said, using this user-friendliness and this kind of storytelling in Decidim's more open functions can be a way to improve the quality of participation and lower the threshold required to give an input.
For example, specifying a place in the Proposals module is still surprisingly hard and unintuitive in Decidim, despite recent improvements (address autocompletion and rectifying a pin on the map). Being able to start a new proposal or a survey answer by putting a pin on a map could be a good way to make the process more intuitive (although the "New proposal" button could remain).
I will stop here as Decidim's text field makes it easier to structure my thoughts. Happy to hear your comments!
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