For all of us who have worked in the field of community engagement—local government, or otherwise—we instinctively know the difference in playing offense or defense with our tactics and communications.
It goes without saying that organizational reputation, values and community trust are always of utmost importance and guide our entire playbook. In any given play, however, we also know which side of the ball we are on and we balance the fear of turnover with the calls we make.
Just as our in-person defense posture takes on a specific look: feet squared, weight balanced, arms folded, tables placed between us and the public, a tight agenda that doesn’t allow for outside influence and maybe even double teams—employees who are there for the sole purpose of handling the “trouble makers;” so is our online engagement influenced when we feel defensive.
Defensive posturing in public participation is very costly and can easily be avoided. By utilizing a broader set of tools for online engagement we come across as more open and available; willing to hear all positions related to a decision.
Social media outlets are full of open dialogue regarding civic issues but the facts are generally wrong and the voice of local government is typically missing, presumably because we are playing defense, which sounds a lot like silence.
Through the use of an online community engagement platform and the incorporation of a set of online tools, our voices can become a part of the dialogue–providing factual information regarding process and previous decision-making that may have critical impact on the topic or decision.
Our choice is in our role as local government officials—what will we choose to do? Ignore? Inform? Defend? Or will we host?
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