Online Community Engagement: Is the Data Valid?

Posted on June 8, 2017
By Lisa Attygalle

Data Scrabble Pieces.jpgCommunity engagement processes have evolved significantly in the past 15 years with the creation of online engagement methods to complement traditional in-person community engagement. Now, it is common for online community engagement – through online surveys, polling, forums, social media, discussion groups, etc. – to make up a significant portion of engagement activities. The benefits of online engagement are real: the increased breadth of participation, being able to reach people on their own schedule, and reduced costs of printing and distribution, to name just a few.

There are also challenges associated with online engagement, one of which is – can we trust the validity of the data that comes out of online engagement processes? How can we ensure that one person is not submitting multiple times and skewing the data? How can we be sure that someone contributing actually lives in the identified geography? How can we avoid trolling and spamming in online discussions?

The Digital ID and Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC), a non-profit coalition of public and private sector leaders committed to developing a Canadian digital identification and authentication framework, recently released a publication, Digital Identity Authentication and Online Citizen Engagement. This paper, submitted by DIACC member PlaceSpeak, a location-based citizen engagement platform, explores the common challenges of ensuring data validity in online engagement and offers a solution that allows for the legitimacy and defensibility of data.

The proposed solution is to employ digital identity authentication and proof of residency to ensure legitimate and defensible engagement.

Digital identity authentication is a process to ensure that people are who they say they are online. In the physical world showing identification is common place, and in the digital world this practice is becoming common as well. It includes processes like verifying an account through an email confirmation, and two-factor authentication through home phone (audio PIN) or mobile phone (SMS PIN).

Proof of residency is most important when the engagement is place-based or used for democratic purposes to authenticate a person to a physical location. This type of authentication is emerging and DIACC have developed a Proof of Concept for Online Proof of Residency to provide a residency check, on demand, with a reasonable level of assurance¹. They have proposed four different levels of proof of residency from simply verifying that an address exists, through to verifying that the address exists, the individual is active within the jurisdiction and there are multiple corroborating proofs of that activity. The process for their proof of concept involves using Google Maps to locate their address and verifying it against their IP address.

While this is highly technical, these processes of authentication are being built directly into engagement platforms which will expand the use of online engagement into democratic processes that require robust levels of data validity. The result will be that community members will feel secure when providing their information, and engagement practitioners will be able to trust the data.

¹ Digital ID & Authentication Council of Canada. 2016. “Proof of Concept – Online Proof of Residency.” Digital ID & Authentication Council of Canada. June.

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Community Engagement, Lisa Attygalle

Lisa Attygalle

By Lisa Attygalle

In her role at Tamarack, Lisa works with cities and organizations to improve the way they engage with their communities. Over the last seven years, her work has focused on creating engagement strategies for municipalities and organizations, integrated communications planning, and the use of technology and creativity for engagement. Lisa constantly advocates for simplicity in infrastructure, frameworks, and design and loves applying the principles of marketing, advertising, loyalty, and user experience to community initiatives.

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