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Lesson #6: Be honest and clear about what you want to achieve

I recently shared a presentation giving my top 10 lessons for online citizen engagement with a group of engagement professionals in Vancouver, Canada and thought there may be value in sharing them more widely. 

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.

I’m going to publish these one lesson at a time to make them bite-sizedThis is the sixth post in the series. Read lesson 1, lesson 2, lesson 3, lesson 4 and lesson 5.

– Matthew Crozier, CEO

Nobody likes to be misled and nothing leads to community cynicism more than engagement that pretends to consult, collaborate or empower when in reality the decision has already been made. I’ll always advocate that better decisions result from open collaborative or consultative processes but sometimes reality dictates that there is only one outcome. The decision has been taken.

In these circumstances there is really nothing wrong with just informing people about what you are doing. Generally speaking, the community is OK with this and would rather you were honest over wasting their time with faux engagement.

I think it’s best to work out exactly what you want input on and to be completely upfront about it. We all love to take part in deep collaborative processes but not when we suspect they are phony.

If you are just informing your community you can still engage, in fact, some really valuable engagement takes place around processes that are already underway or decisions already taken. Q&A is an example of the sort of tool needed during the informative stage of a project. This public question and answer lets the community get relevant information from the project team, saves on phone calls, creates a transparent record of your responsiveness as well as a searchable database of information.

To illustrate this point I’ve chosen a site we hosted for Western Bay of Plenty Regional Council in New Zealand.  The site clearly states why the consultation is taking place and what will be done with the information gathered. At this point, the consultation phase has ended but the information, Q&A and news are still available so engagement continues.

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