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How Tech Enables Equity and Inclusion in Capital Projects

Especially when it comes to federally funded infrastructure, public involvement is essential. But it’s no longer enough to simply host a town hall meeting — here’s how digitalization offers a better way.

Construction workers digging into pipeline.
The concept of the public forum is as key to democracy as elections, voting and representation. Protections for the public forum fall under the banner of free speech and the First Amendment — that the government should make no law limiting the expression of free speech. Citizen feedback and its protection as a free speech form is an essential check on government and ensures that constituents are represented in government actions. This is why, when city planning projects use federal funding (and therefore taxpayer dollars), it is mandated that citizens be given the opportunity to provide feedback.

But the ideal public forum has changed considerably in the last two decades, differing drastically from what it was when these provisions were established. Town halls and public forums are no longer the primary places of civic feedback. It’s social media and digital channels which drive civic engagement and connect constituents to their representatives.

In capital infrastructure planning and implementation, public involvement is essential. These projects directly impact citizens’ everyday lives and have the power to influence how future generations will experience cities. But capital planning management historically has required in-public meetings and forums for discussion, which require citizens to travel, set aside time out of work, get child care covered and keep up with meeting schedules. This method of collecting feedback does not take advantage of the efficiency of digital communication (through software or social media). It’s just one example of how capital infrastructure planning processes — multimillion and sometimes multibillion-dollar, federally funded projects like roads, federal buildings, water systems and public transportation — are in need of a digital overhaul.


While the benefits of digitizing the capital planning process are numerous — from money saved to sustainability improvements — representation is possibly the most important piece of the equation. Historically, minorities have been disproportionately underrepresented in city development. Gentrification is a key example of this. By digitizing the public involvement portion of capital planning, municipal leaders can ensure that projects are more equitable and inclusive than ever before. Gathering public feedback in the digital space is a critical aspect of this equation. By replacing the traditional town hall public forum with a digital, modernized public forum, city and infrastructure decision-makers can embrace a more equitable way to engage citizens with the capital programs that affect their lives.


Technology makes it easier for community members to engage with the planning process and contribute opinions about projects because it is more easily accessible than meetings or sessions. Just as the Internet democratized, to a certain extent, access to information, so can technology make information available to the public so they have more insight and say about projects taking place in their communities.

Simply by paving the way for citizens to connect with these projects, capital program stakeholders can improve representation. Even if an individual does not own a computer, local libraries can provide access. And by gathering essential information in the digital space, the window of time within which individuals can respond to project information is markedly larger than a single town hall meeting. For example, those with mobility or health limitations and those who work long or non-standard hours and may not be able to attend in-person town halls can more easily contribute to public discourse through digital channels. This extends the reach of the modern public forum, considerably increasing the number of individuals who can access information.


Artificial intelligence can be used to index, analyze and report on public involvement insights. The benefit of using AI in this function is that it can remove bias in the analysis process. For such large-scale and civic-centered programs, this is critical because measuring community sentiment can be challenging without a check on biases. Instead of internal stakeholders determining the community’s perspective by reading through paper documentation or from a verbal vote during a town hall meeting, AI can track and measure every instance of feedback individually and then combine the data to run a collective report. Sentiment analysis conducted through the power of AI can reveal the overarching themes underlying the public’s response.

Across industries and sectors, tech can enable more equitable projects, planning, systems and communities. In capital programming, public involvement is both essential and mandated. It’s a check on projects to ensure that communities are represented in changes to essential infrastructures, like the roads they drive daily, the water systems critical to their lives and city buildings they use. Digitalization is the most effective way to ensure equity and inclusion are pillars of the systems we build.

Balaji Sreenivasan is founder and CEO of Aurigo Software Technologies.