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Maptionnaire wants everyone on board with urban planning

As the service is map-based, respondents can clearly indicate the locations they want to highlight. Maptionnaire

With its map-based online questionnaires, this Finnish company offers urban planners an easy and efficient way to collect views from local residents.

Cities are constantly evolving, but their residents often feel they have little control over how their living environments change. Maptionnaire has set out to change this.

The service’s map-based questionnaires make it easy for urban planners to reach out to residents in order to collect their views about their surroundings. This allows the planners to collect large datasets that offer insights about the areas and can inform the planning processes.

The service has users around the world. For example, New York City’s Department of Transportation consulted residents with an online questionnaire when creating a new transit plan for the city last year. “In the past, the planners only collected this data by interviewing people in the subway and buses, so our tool was a helpful addition,” says Maarit Kahila, CEO of Mapita, the company behind Maptionnaire.

Maptionnaire is making a difference, from New York to Stockholm. Image: Maptionnaire

Over in Sweden, the City of Stockholm used Maptionnaire to present its plans for a new residential area in Värtahamnen, the district where the dock for Silja Line ferries arriving from Finland is located.

Early involvement key

For urban planning, Maptionnaire’s service offers some clear advantages over other survey tools. As it is map-based, respondents can clearly indicate the locations they want to highlight. The service also makes it easy to reach a lot of people.

“When the City of Helsinki ran a survey, over 3 300 respondents participated over one month,” Kahila says. “Big datasets like this are a really useful tool for urban development, but it used to be extremely difficult to get data as detailed as this.”

Maptionnaire also makes it easier to involve residents in the early stages of a development project, giving them the chance to voice their opinion even before plans are finalised. “If residents aren’t given the opportunity to contribute, they are more likely to react negatively when final plans are revealed,” Kahila says.

Maptionnaire lets everyone have their say about urban planning. Image: Maptionnaire

Kahila stresses that the company wants to enable more constructive exchanges between urban planners and citizens. “Right now, some planners can even be apprehensive about interacting with residents. Sadly, they’ve learned to expect negative feedback.”

New tool, new mindset

Maptionnaire’s origins go back to Aalto University, where Kahila previously worked on research projects that developed new ways to collect residents’ views about their living environments. After receiving positive feedback for their work, the researchers decided to spin off the project, and in 2011 they launched Mapita.

While most tech start-ups focus on scale, the company decided early on that its attention should first and foremost be on the clients. “It’s crucial for us that we listen to our customers and develop the service based on their needs, rather than obsessing over growth,” Kahila says.

A large part of Maptionnaire’s users are already outside Finland, and in the future the company hopes to reach a growing number of international customers. Encouragingly, its clients’ needs seem to be very similar around the world: “It has been fascinating to find out that, for example in Canada, urban planners face very similar issues to what we’ve seen in Finland.”

Technology can provide new solutions, but perhaps the biggest challenge for the company is linked to mindsets. New tools are not always immediately embraced.

“During our early days, many people didn’t really take us seriously,” Kahila says. “But in just a few years we’ve seen that attitudes have changed, and more and more people are realising how useful this is.”

By: Teemu Henriksson