That’s a wrap on our People’s Agenda project

The votes are counted, the new city council is about to get to work, and we’re putting a bow on our People’s Agenda project.

We set out to cover Edmonton’s 2021 municipal election in a way that was better than and different from traditional election coverage. We wanted to ground our stories in the issues that mattered to people, rather than the horse race or the sniping between candidates. We could see the value of approaching our election through the lens of The Citizens Agenda, which we explored in the summer of 2020 at a series of Election SOS training sessions.

We came out of that training with this vision:

Taproot Edmonton will build a robust, accurate, point-in-time summary of the key points on people’s minds heading into the 2021 municipal election in Edmonton, tapping into the full diversity of our community. The People’s Agenda will be shared publicly as widely as possible during and after the listening campaign and will shape Taproot Edmonton’s coverage, grounding it in what people actually care about. The People’s Agenda will help fulfill Taproot’s mission to help our community understand itself better, in a way that is driven by curiosity and a desire to explain rather than to convince.

And we defined success like this:

The People’s Agenda will reflect what Edmontonians want candidates to address, and Taproot Edmonton will be better connected to a broader, more diverse, and engaged community.

Our efforts would lead to 21,000+ responses from voters seeking to know which candidates best aligned with their values, and many comments like this:

  • "I love the contexts provided, it taught me a lot on current city initiatives that I never looked into. It’s awesome that there’s something like this, and I appreciate the candidates who took the time to respond." (danger-boi on Reddit)
  • "The survey was very well done. The context was short, but well referenced and made for solid opportunities to explore topics in greater detail. And then at the end, you can see how each candidate responded? ::chef’s kiss::" (@ganpachi on Reddit)
  • "It’s actually pretty cool: it seems that the prospective councillors and mayoral candidates answered the same questionnaire. You’re comparing the answer you gave to the answer they gave—not somebody’s interpretation of their platform. thanks @taprootyeg" (@kongaloosh on Twitter)
  • "Very useful and thought provoking. I recommend for all YEGers who find municipal elections a bit confusing." (@Bjwrz on Twitter)

That’s just a tiny sample of the positive feedback we received. We did not imagine that this is where the People’s Agenda would take us when we launched it. But we ended up in a very good place, with lessons we can apply to future efforts to listen and be useful to our community.

The winding path to better and different election coverage

So how did we get here anyway? Here are some of the high points of the timeline:

Some of the key facts and figures for the People’s Agenda project.

Lessons and challenges

This project took at least 500 hours of staff time and another 100+ hours from paid contributors, in addition to the time spent by steering committee members Elise Stolte and Rob Houle, as well as volunteer facilitators at our listening sessions.

It was at times overwhelming, but part of what made it so was not quite knowing where we were headed. There was a bit of wheel-spinning after our listening sessions, for example, when it wasn’t at all clear what our tiny team was going to be able to do with all of this input. The breakthrough was coming across The City’s Meet Your Mayor app, which inspired our own version.

It’s also worth noting that our startup changed significantly during the course of this project. In the summer of 2020, when we started the Election SOS training, our journalistic output consisted of several weekly newsletters on specific topics, a weekly podcast, and semi-regular stories that we shared on social media but didn’t have a very accessible home on our website.

In January 2021, we launched The Pulse, a weekday newsletter focused more generally on what goes on in our city. We had also revamped our home page to better display our journalism. That was vital to ensuring the project had impact. But The Pulse and the People’s Agenda weren’t as integrated as they could have been. Future engagement efforts will have to be fully part of what we do instead of happening in parallel as this project sometimes did.

While all of this was happening, we were also developing and delivering on the business-to-business product that helps to fund all of this work. That was vital, too, for while the project did sell some more memberships and increased our readership, which helps sell sponsorships and advertising, it did not pay for itself. Our model is such that the journalism is subsidized by the B2B side of our operation, and the growth we achieved earlier this year certainly made such an ambitious project possible. It would be fair to say, however, that the effort to bring the project to a strong conclusion ate into the time that we intended to put into business development in the last quarter.

We are coming out of this project with a reusable matching engine that we intend to employ not only for the next municipal election in 2025 but also in the interim, perhaps for elections at other levels or as a regular check-in on the current council. It may even be a product we could sell to others.

We have also developed a bit of a listening methodology that we’ll be able to streamline for future elections as well as ongoing check-ins on what matters to our community and what people want to better understand. We’re working on what that looks like. What we know for sure is that democracy is not just for election time, and neither is engaged, community-focused journalism. The People’s Agenda has taught us a lot about that. We’re eager to continue to apply those lessons as we go on.

What’s next

We encourage you to subscribe to The Pulse. You’ll receive our ongoing coverage of Edmonton and you’ll be among the first to participate in any new engagement opportunities. If you’d like to help ensure this work remains free for everyone, become a member.

If you’d like to know more about how we inform and connect communities, get in touch. We’d love to serve your community through our B2B offerings.

Finally, if you run a digital news site, work in journalism, or simply have ideas for how to make use of our matching engine, we’d love to hear from you.

By the numbers

  • 1 key question
  • 204 answers
  • 8 listening sessions
  • 10 topics
  • 30 survey questions
  • 67 candidate responses
  • 21,000+ voter responses
  • 500+ hours of staff time
  • 100+ hours of paid contributor time

Introducing The Pulse from Taproot Edmonton

We’re excited to introduce The Pulse, a daily news briefing that informs you about what’s going on in Edmonton. It launches on Monday, Jan. 18, and you can sign up now to get it for free.

What is The Pulse?

The Pulse is a one-stop shop for what you need to know before getting on with your day. Every weekday morning, we’ll share original stories from our team, a curated selection of local news from around the web, and other local items of interest that will hopefully provide you with a small dose of daily delight.

The Pulse is free, and it will contain minimal, locally focused advertisements to help us keep it that way. You can also support our work by becoming a member.

To start, we’ll deliver The Pulse via an email newsletter, on the web, and on social media. We know that everyone’s routine is different, and while email works well for many people, it may not for others. We want to meet you wherever you are in order to serve you well. To that end, we will continue to evaluate additional ways to make The Pulse available.

Why is Taproot launching The Pulse?

As readers, we subscribe to some fantastic daily newsletters from media companies elsewhere in the world, such as The Morning Newsletter from The New York Times, Morning Brew, and Axios AM. These and other similar newsletters are a great way to get oriented and provide useful context for the day ahead.

We wanted to subscribe to a local newsletter, too, something focused on our city, but what we were looking for just didn’t exist. Now it does.

Taproot Edmonton is well-positioned to make this happen. Our team pays close attention to Edmonton. We’re constantly gathering information about our city, evaluating those updates, adding context, and sharing them with readers. This effort has helped us keep Edmontonians informed through our roundups as well as an increasing number of original articles. Now it’ll help us produce The Pulse.

What benefits does The Pulse provide?

In December, we piloted The Pulse for two weeks with a few hundred of our existing email subscribers. That gave us an opportunity to gather feedback from readers on what elements of the briefing they liked best, as well as to test and refine the editorial process needed to produce a new edition every day.

We then took some time before the holidays to evaluate all the feedback and data we had collected. We were very encouraged by the response, with a majority of survey respondents indicating they liked The Pulse and wanted something like it to continue. In fact, 83% of respondents told us that The Pulse informed them about things they care about.

Our goal is for The Pulse to inform you, save you time, connect you to Edmonton, and delight you, each and every day.

We’ve made some adjustments since the pilot, and we’ll continue to iterate over the weeks and months ahead. We welcome your feedback!

Sign up to get The Pulse for free

We are launching The Pulse on Monday, Jan. 18, and we’d love for you to sign up to receive it in your email inbox every weekday. It’s free!

Welcome to the Taproot Edmonton blog

We’re launching a blog!

On our original FAQ page, we clarified that Taproot Edmonton is not a blog: “We love blogs, but this is not a blog.” We hadn’t yet published any stories and we had a high bar for quality in mind, so we wanted to convey that. Now you can actually read our stories and see the quality for yourself.

We have always been fans of blogging though! I’ve been writing at mastermaq.ca since 2003, and Karen was an early adopter of blogs too. A blog is an excellent tool to communicate what we’re working on, which is why we’re launching this one now. We plan to share product updates, thoughts on the future of local media, and other updates related to Taproot.

If you’re new to Taproot Edmonton, we’re a source of curiosity-driven stories about our city, cultivated by the community. We are building a new way to do local journalism, and a new way to fund it, because the business model that used to support local journalism is broken. We are striving to replace what is being lost with something that is sustainable and responsive to the community we serve.

We look forward to sharing the journey with you here.