These are lessons learned in collaboration with over 300 clients and more than 4000 online engagement projects in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA, using the EngagementHQ platform to reach out to the community and engage them at different levels.
– Matthew Crozier, CEO
Unfortunately, most municipal, government and large corporate websites are a horrific prospect for the curious citizen because of the depth and complexity of information they contain. As a consequence, it is highly unlikely the people you wish to engage will have the patience to track down all the relevant material they need to provide informed feedback.
So when engaging a community online, it is best practice to provide all relevant information needed to make informed decisions in the same engagement space, in a digestible format.
The example I’ve chosen here is a municipal budget consultation for the City of Halifax in Canada. Their community engagement site includes an easy-to-understand video on how to take part in the consultation.
Halifax’s main budget site, pictured above, has a number of terrific features, which make this difficult subject easier for the community to access and understand.
- The ‘Municipal Budget 101’ video, which is embedded on a widget on the site introduces the budget issue and informs people how to take part in the consultation. Video, rich media and other engaging content makes a site much more attractive to the community. You only have a few seconds to encourage a site visitor to stay and learn more; a bland wall of text means you will lose a large part of your potential audience immediately.
- The Budget Allocator tool helps the community understand the trade-offs inherent in budget decisions and to ‘gamify’ the decision-making process. Halifax did a particularly good job of this. You can see Halifax’s Budget Allocator site here.
- A simple info-graphic in the introductory area of the site makes information easier to digest.
- The provision of a whole series of short and simple fact sheets means people can delve more deeply into the issue without having to look through a massive report. Generally, bureaucrats are very comfortable with reading long reports, it’s something we do daily. However, the broader community doesn’t usually want to print and read a lengthy document, so breaking reports down into bite-sized fact sheets is really helpful.
- FAQs, slideshows, audio and other forms of rich and engaging content provides participants with all the key facts before they give feedback, making their contributions better informed and more relevant.
So to summarise, for a project to be successful with high levels of informed engagement, it is important to provide all relevant information in a clear and easy-to-access format (or multiple formats) on a stand-alone engagement site. This will ensure your consultation is easy to understand and an attractive place for discussion for your community.