Online Engagement: Spotlight on Ethelo


Throughout the course of the year, in so much of our engagement work, we have heard from different stakeholder groups and organizations that Canadians prefer to store information on servers in Canada. When it comes to public institutions, this is also a legal requirement under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA). Storing information in Canada, however, often comes with a higher price tag, and more limited options. The options for organizations that are not strictly limited to Canada, frequently seem a lot more interesting, with better functionalities, and less expensive.

For us at Delaney + Associates, this becomes relevant whenever we need to choose a platform for an online engagement component of a project. It frequently seems to us that our U.S. colleagues just seem to have so many more options to choose from. So, more than once in the course of last year, we have thought about the reasons for all of this, wondered about why our neighbours to the south seem to be more entrepreneurial, ready to take advantage of opportunities, and faster to create better, more responsive platforms.

This was our thinking until we began to discover that Vancouver was doing considerably well when it comes to development of online engagement platforms. Vancouver is the home of several entrepreneurial endeavours, two of them being MetroQuest and PlaceSpeak. Already quite proud that such powerful platforms are a “made in Vancouver” product, several months ago, we also came across Ethelo.

Ethelo is a “group-wisdom” platform developed by logician John Richardson and Kent Mewhort, a data visualization aficionado.The platform is clean and colourful, user-friendly, and a valuable tool to provide stakeholders with insight into potential complexities around a particular project, decision-making steps, as well as the general level of support for different variables within the project. The true beauty is that every option, potential variable, or project element can be rated by participants in the engagement process. The rating input is then tabulated as data that provides clear information on what options would receive maximum buy-in from stakeholders.

One thing to prepare for when presenting Ethelo to clients is that stakeholders can often be asked for their thoughts and opinions in complex environments where there are trade-offs and no straightforward decisions. Potentially a limitation (but perhaps also its strength) is that Ethelo functions as a forum where stakeholders can evaluate options that are, for the most part, distinct and identified. As any consultant knows, clearly distinct scenarios may not always be the case, and on-the-ground options can be quite fuzzy and uncertain. For this reason, Ethelo may not immediately seem like the right fit.

The magic of Ethelo, however, is that it assigns a quantitative value to ideas and suggestions that are likely received as qualitative input in public engagement consultations. This motivates decision-makers to think about project options ahead of time, and frame them in a way that enables the levels of support to be rated. It also immediately sets the stage for input that can be analyzed with ease and confidence, and adds structure to a process that can otherwise seem disjointed. So, for projects that do have relatively clear options, it sounds like a great tool, right?!

Now, we just can’t wait to use Ethelo on one of our future projects, and find out whether it meets all our expectations! For more information about the platform, see

Have you already used Ethelo? If so, let us know how you have used it, and tell us about your experience with it!