Symbium Announces Government Relationship Management

Thursday August 12, 2021
Location: San Francisco, CA

If you have ever tried to get a building permit to add to or remodel your home, figure out how to reassess your property value, or know/change the data that your local government has about you, you’re probably intimately familiar with the frustrating reality of working within government systems. 

The Current Problem with the Government Experience

The government experience in the US is badly broken - publicly-available data about anything, including property, is disintegrated, difficult to access, and even harder to understand. At Symbium, we are well-aware of the challenges facing the average property owner trying to start a new project. People want to know where to go, who to get help from, what the steps are, and how the law applies to their specific situation. Property-owners looking to make modifications need to know both what they are allowed to do on their property, and what they are required to do on their property (an important distinction), but unfortunately, under the current system of government relationship management, options are limited.

Examples of Challenges Navigating Government Regulations and Processes

Say, for example, that a homeowner wants to add a new deck to their backyard. That homeowner has three options to help them understand their local planning and zoning codes so they can get started on that project.

  • Option A: I can look it up myself. The homeowner can choose to read through all the regulations manually to find out what to do. Unfortunately, this is a prohibitive task, even for professionals, because the regulations are changing constantly, they can be located in multiple different places, and the language in zoning codes may be difficult to interpret/understand.
  • Option B: I can call my local planning department. The homeowner can call or visit the local planning department to get information from city planning staff. With city resources diverted towards emergency services due to the pandemic, however, city planning departments are frequently under-staffed and under-resourced and there is always a backlog of projects so you should not expect to receive an immediate response (let alone approval) for your project. Not only that, but the homeowner may get a different answer to their question depending on what planner they speak to, which creates further confusion and sometimes even encourages “planner shopping” to procure the most favorable response.
  • Option C: I can hire someone to do it for me. Once you identify a consultant whom you can trust, afford, and who has time to prioritize your project, you may run into some of the same missteps in the previous two options. Further, you will always have to relay on your consultant to relay the most pertinent information to the city staff and then relay everything back to you in full so that you are in the best possible position to make a decision.  

The Painful Result

Unfortunately for the homeowner, general lack of transparency can cause expensive, time-consuming missteps anywhere along the chain of information and approval. This “lack of knowing” keeps citizens powerless when it comes to their own data. In order to change people’s relationship with the government, the user experience needs to be corrected, and information needs to be transparent and accessible. 

Symbium’s Vision of Government Relationship Management

Symbium’s vision for a revitalized government user experience begins with a platform that changes the way people interact with government. It should be viewed as a “citizen’s dashboard.” In an ideal world, this is what we’re working towards - a user-friendly experience that allows the public / constituents to control, interact with, and search for information, featuring three essential components:

  1. Integrated data. In an ideal world, citizens would have access to unified data that is compiled, complete, clean, and all in one place - even if it originally came from multiple sources. This could potentially increase the accuracy of government data, which would ultimately benefit everyone. Data in government hands is the only data the government can base decisions off of, and the more correct that data is, the fairer and more equitable those decisions will be.
  2. Integrated services. The public should have the power to update their own data, and for that data to then be disseminated to all the agencies that need to have it. Further, anyone should be able to experience Symbium’s Complaw tools. That is, users should visualize how regulations apply to their particular properties so that they can obtain an instant analysis on what’s required and what’s allowed.
  3. A Rich Search Experience. Whether people are looking up property information or information about State Senators, they should be able to find out about the government and the law in one easy to use, centralized location that allows a rich, interconnected search experience on demand.

At Symbium, our business is Complaw. We build tools that help people manage and view what is possible in the built environment, and give them the ability to instantly understand what they can do. We also work on tools like permitting software for governments that save government employees time and allow them to perform instant planning compliance reviews and other tasks much more quickly and with a higher level of consistency and accuracy.

A New Government Experience is on the Horizon

Symbium’s current tools represent only a fraction of what’s possible in the Complaw universe, but the ethos is the same: we can use technology and data to encourage feasibility and transparency. We have observed firsthand how these tools take the pressure off the public and government workers alike by making tasks like applying for a permit or permit tracking easier to accomplish. A streamlined search, data, and services fosters a new-in-kind government user experience that will put data, transparency, and feasability into the hands of the public, foster a more collaborative and productive environment, and reduce the friction between the public and city staff.


About Symbium

Symbium’s applications make the zoning and planning regulations that shape our cities and towns easy to navigate. The key to Symbium’s business is Complaw®, which is concerned with the representation of laws and regulations, such as planning codes, in a computable form. Symbium’s Complaw-enabled web applications make zoning regulations and large data sets easy to navigate and compute, empowering anyone to use our online tools to quickly assess what’s possible on a piece of property or across a jurisdiction.

Posted August 13, 2021

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