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Zencity Buys Elucd in Bid to Bring Polling to More Cities

The move brings Zencity's sentiment monitoring tools together with Elucd's polling technology, which the companies hope will give public officials a better way to see how the public responds to their actions.

digital rendering of a megaphone coming out of a computer
Zencity, a startup that offers tools to help government track public sentiment, has acquired another startup that specializes in opinion polling.

The purchase of Elucd will create a company stretched across the Atlantic, with one foot in Tel Aviv and the other in New York, that can offer the public sector a broader spectrum of technology for understanding how the feelings of its constituents change over time.

For example, a city manager could use Zencity to first get an understanding of residents’ opinions about a major public works project, then survey them to understand why, then make changes based on the responses and watch to see if their opinions change.

“The ability to turn how people feel about the neighborhood they live in, or how the city’s doing, into a performance metric is incredibly transformational for cities,” said Michael Simon, co-founder and CEO of Elucd. “It’s been transformational for the private sector. Every company in the world relies on things like net promoter score, (which) is one of the KPIs on the CEO’s desk. We’re now going to be able to put that same power in the hands of the CEOs of local governments, and that’s a powerful thing.”

Zencity CEO Eyal Feder-Levy thinks the combination could have a very important application in coming months as well: the latter stages of the U.S. push to vaccinate against COVID-19. Though President Joe Biden recently announced that the country should have enough doses to vaccinate every American adult by the end of May, a sizable chunk of the population has been telling public opinion pollsters that they don’t want to be a part of it.

The implication is that sometime between now and the end of May, the U.S. will reach a point where it has more vaccine supply than demand. And in fact, Feder-Levy has already seen the problem shaping up in Israel, where most of the population has already been vaccinated.

When the U.S. reaches that point, the government’s concern will become convincing those people to get the vaccine. Feder-Levy thinks a combination of sentiment monitoring and surveying can help with that.

“If we can recognize what are the pockets … of people who are more skeptical about vaccines, and recognize from the emerging discourse, from the examining discourse, what are the messages that are resonating well, not resonating well, what is the fake news that’s dominating the conversation — that mix of the two is a great, great, great example of … (how) we can really make an impact on what is about to be, just two months down the road, what is going to be the biggest barrier between us and reopening our lives back to where we were before,” he said.

Zencity’s product works by tapping into several sources of public discourse, including social media and local news. The company’s algorithms then create insights and trends for a local government to see how that sentiment changes over time.

Elucd is also focused on tracking changes over time. But it does so by giving governments a way to continuously survey residents with an eye toward creating respondent samples representative of the entire jurisdiction.

“The tools that exist today, they don’t really solve the problem,” Simon said. “Because if you think about the way cities use survey research, it’s like, ‘Let’s do an annual study (where) we spend three months cooking up the questions and then we publish it three months later.’ The tools that exist are kind of clunky.”

Rather than creating a snapshot, the two companies hope to give public officials a before-and-after picture so they can see how the public responds to their actions. That could also work as a performance management metric for different departments.

Zencity has about 200 local government agency customers and 75 employees, while Elucd has nine employees and 15 city customers. Most of Elucd’s clientele has been police departments, including one of the largest in the U.S., the Chicago Police Department.

Zencity is venture-backed, and has raised at least $21 million from investors including Salesforce Ventures and Microsoft’s M12 fund.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.