A7 Hello Independence tree.jpg

Jason Kistler, Independence IT manager, tries out “Hello Independence.”

INDEPENDENCE — The city of Independence is trying a new method for people to weigh in on the Vision 2040 process — texting with trees, fountains and other objects.

Sort of.

“I’m always looking for tech stuff to get going,” said Shawn Irvine, economic development director.

This latest endeavor, “Hello Independence,” is through Hello Lamp Post, a UK-based platform that allows people to have text “conversations” with certain inanimate objects.

The six-month trial will cost the city $12,000 out of the economic development professional services fund, money Irvine said is left over from this year’s budget.

Objects are identifiable by yellow signs with corresponding codes to initiate text interactions.

“It’s just a unique way of leveraging artificial intelligence,” Irvine said. “You can do this with a flip phone.”

It’s anonymous, he said, and the information is stored in a single database.

“It will know 200 people had conversations and 50 of those have said they would like better access to the river,” Irvine said.

Four sites in Independence were active on the Fourth of July. A total of 12 are expected to be up this week.

On July 5, Irvine said there already had been about 200 conversations.

“It’s definitely piquing people’s interest,” he said. “I’ll be getting weekly interaction reports with how many conversations are held and what people are saying.”

Irvine said since the interactions are text-message based, there aren’t the privacy concerns associated with “web browsers, cookies, and apps. The conversations are anonymized so that all we get is the text of the conversations, we don’t even track the phone numbers.”

The city has a dedicated phone number, 503-210-9494, for “Hello Independence” conversations.

“It’s a fun different way to engage with people and just too fun not to try,” Irvine said.

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