Venture Tech startup client Milieu – transforming civic engagement and urban planning

Cities are often required to engage citizens and get their input on land use planning and development projects, however holding public consultations rarely accomplishes this goal – notices of meetings are confusing, information is convoluted and the public are left confused and frustrated by the process.

Ottawa-based startup Milieu Technologies Ltd. is challenging the status quo by modernizing the consultation process, making it meaningful for both cities and citizens.

“The idea of Milieu first started from the observation that physical planning notices were dysfunctional. Often, public meeting notifications and updates changed multiple times throughout the planning and development lifecycle. Existing online services for information on land use planning and development were often confusing and inaccessible,” says Milieu co-founder Luisa Ji.

Milieu utilizes cloud-based web applications which allow cities to provide citizens with visual tools – such as pictures, maps and the ability to interactively “walk-through” neighbourhoods – and provide their feedback on the project in real time. The data is analyzed using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to produce real-time, practical reports for city decision makers.

“Common engagement practices such as public consultations and questionnaires, are either negatively received or outputting tremendous amounts of unstructured data that overloads the workflow of stakeholders involved in the planning and development lifecycle,” says Milieu co-founder Lee-Michael Pronko. “To tackle this challenge, we developed an artificial intelligence pipeline called MOEE (Milieu Opinion Extraction Engine). MOEE turns unstructured text, specifically public feedback, into meaningful, structured data by analyzing it and visualizing it in several ways in real time.”

“Milieu’s vision is to change the preconception of civic engagement, and offer both public and private sector professionals in land use planning and development, the ability to harness the intelligence of people, so that they can make citizen-centered and confident decisions in shaping the future of cities,” Ji says.

Milieu was Founded in 2016,  Milieu’s platform has been used successfully in the City of Guelph and in a ward of the City of Ottawa.

Convincing cities to engage differently with their citizens is a challenge; however Ji and Pronko are well equipped to take on this task. Both co-founders are researchers at the Centre for Urban Research and Education at Carleton University, and Ji has a background in architecture, while Pronko studied political science and philosophy.

They are both excited about exploring their entrepreneurial side, working in a field about which they are so passionate.

“I think entrepreneurship is something that enables expression, like art. We realized we both have a passion for urbanism and the desire to tackle urban problems. Subsequently, we found a vision and built a great team that brought us to what Milieu is today,” Pronko says.

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