Provo City opened an online forum entitled “Open City Hall” on Nov. 1, 2016 in hopes of revolutionizing the way residents learn about and respond to issues.
Provo City has used Facebook and Instagram in the past to inform residents and give them a chance to express their opinions on issues. Another information option for residents was to attend city council meetings, held every Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.
Provo City Council Community Relations Coordinator Karen Tapahe said one of the problems with residents attending town hall meetings is scheduling conflicts.
Tapahe said she hopes the online forum will encourage more participation from residents who fear standing up and speaking in public. She also hopes the online forum encourages more participation from BYU students, who make up a large part of Provo’s population.
“This way, (residents) can give information at a time that’s convenient for them,” Tapahe said. “They can do it from their own home, work or wherever they have access to the internet.”
BYU student Catie Brown said she likes being able to submit her opinion on social media, but she’s never been to a town hall meeting.
“I would participate in an online forum because of its convenience,” Brown said. “Sometimes it’s easier to say what you want online rather than in person. I can be intimidated in large groups of people. An online forum would alleviate many concerns.”
Another problem the online forum aims to solve is the incendiary comments and personal attacks that appear on social media posts. Tapahe said comments on the online forum first have to be approved, and residents have the option to remain anonymous.
BYU student Rachel Stone worked for Provo City Information Systems and had a hand in the development of the online forum. Stone said Open City Hall lets everyone, not just city council members, read and analyze comments.
“Open City Hall is an upgrade for citizens and an extension for trust from the city because residents can see very publicly what each other are saying,” Stone said.
Stone also said she thinks the online forum allows residents to develop a more full perspective of issues.
Tapahe said the council researched a variety of different tools that could be used for an online forum to decide that Open City Hall was the best option. Stone said Open City Hall gives residents “the best bang for their buck.”
The current issue up for discussion is development on the west side of Provo. Residents can share their thoughts and opinions online using the Open Town Hall forum.