The City of Vancouver (or City of Vision Vancouver as it is better known) has launched a new “community engagement” tool called TalkVancouver which claims to offer a way for Vancouverites to talk to City Hall and express their opinions on various subjects of interest. It is, however, a scam that will operate purely for the benefit of the incumbents.
We all know that this City administration hasn’t a clue how to manage “community engagement” — the disasters of the major planning debacles, the non-engagement of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability and the Regional Context Statement, the invisibility of the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Engagement are proof of this. Perhaps TalkVancouver will be better — don’t hold your breath!
TalkVancouver is another “bread and circuses” exercise where Vision tries to show it is open to all views, but which actually serves only to allow them to brag about the numbers taking part.
This is a system where a great deal of demographic data is collected in order to allow the participant to respond to City-designed questions, questions that will, of course be skewed to produce the result they want. There is no attempt to allow participants to speak their mind on what they want to talk about. Their responses will be carefully steered to meet previously determined outcomes. You and I both know that trained experts can submit skewed questions far more subtly than a straightforward ask from a common sense citizen.
An employee of Vision Critical agrees that skewed questions and skewed interpretation “[w]ithout the appropriate oversight … can indeed be dangerous” but suggests we give them the benefit of the doubt. Why, they haven’t earned it. As another correspondent noted: “It is going to be impossible to create a statistically valid result from this kind of polling-of-volunteer-subjects. By definition, the sample is self-referencing rather than objective. However, prepare to hear a lot of “X% of Talk Vancouver Engaged City participants approve of __________”.
The very first survey (other than a throwaway about use of 311) is just another collection device for personal demographic data. One sophisticated user went through the entire survey many times, giving different answers to each question in order to follow the flows each response directs the user through. He also notes that anyone over 100 or under 15 will get kicked out of the system (“This survey was designed by a robot who disrespects older and younger people.”)
And what of the privacy attached to this data? The same employee of Vision Critical mentioned above notes that the “community is being run by the city – not Vision Vancouver – so data can not be transferred to the party.” What guarantees are there for this assertion, given that Vision controls the City machinery at every level? Is there a privacy contract? Can we see it?
Anyway, I would certainly not recommend anyone join TalkVancouver which, in my mind, is nothing more than a pre-election data-mining scheme for Vision Vancouver — and one that you and I are paying for!