As I looked through our data recently, one thing was inexplicable to me: the difference in database sizes (the number of registered participants in the ‘online community’) from state to state AND site to site.
Why, I wondered, were some so much lower than others?
Preliminary investigations have shown that what I refer to as ‘attitudes’ to community engagement have a significant effect on the type and the amount of engagement and the ability to build a community of interest online.
There is a range of other factors which do not affect building an online community as much as people think. Some of these include:
- Resources – such as dedicated staff
- Time – for your ‘community’ to get used to online engagement
- Size – the bigger the organisation the more you can do
But a look at practice across sites painted a different picture. The main factor affecting the number of continuously engaged online participants is: The frequency and range of issues that become a public discussion
This means that the organisations who engage more frequently and on a wider range of issues generally engage more people over time. Thus, the best way to grow your online community is through diverse and regular engagement.
In some states, we have seen a significant difference in the way that organisations engage with their stakeholders. In some cases, organisations engage their stakeholders:
- Infrequently, but with more significant decisions to make (i.e. around planning or infrastructure issues or organisational plans);
- Regularly with a wide range of topics, some of which are not even aimed at decision-making, but rather focus on discussing topics of interest with their stakeholders (e.g. places of interest, community heroes)
These two approaches yield very different outcomes.
We are not of the view that one approach is right and the other wrong, they both have their place.
However, when you are preparing your engagement plan or considering the results of your engagement (whether it is online or not), it may be worthwhile considering how much the frequency and breadth of your conversations with stakeholders affect your relationship with them and their perception of you.
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