Video is THE single most powerful way to communicate complex information to the public.
The advent of YouTube and other video sharing sites along with inexpensive digital video cameras have been game changers in video production and sharing. Videos with production standards that meet the needs of the majority of the community can be produced cheaply and quickly. This has fundamentally changed the way people acquire information. There is an expectation that information will be presented in an easily digestible format.
Video is easy. It acknowledges the reality that not everyone wants to read long or even short documents. It enhances accessibility to information and by so doing it enhances the potential for sensible community input into decision-making processes. A well-informed community is the foundation stone of any community engagement process. Good quality information – accurate, timely and comprehensible – is the starting point for the conversation process.
Despite these fundamental social changes most public engagement processes still require the community to read lots and lots of information ranging from highly technical specialist reports to highly stylized, glossy and content free project summary brochures. Let’s be clear… most people don’t want to read these documents because they are, at best, pretty boring for the everyday reader, and at worst, impenetrable.
With all this in mind, our community engagement platform EngagementHQ allows users to embed video in various parts of their site, including in the project description or in a left of screen video widget. Though not everyone uses this feature so we thought it was time to put together a brain dump of ways to use video to hopefully kick things along a bit.
Video the Boss
This is the most straightforward use of video I can think of. A number of our clients have done this – see Matt’s earlier blog about Wellington City Council for example. It can be as simple as a single head shot of the CEO, political leader, or a project manager talking directly to camera – this can scripted, shot, produced and uploaded to the web in as little as an hour with a little bit of practice. If higher production values are required, and the budget allows, you can always call in a professional interviewer and videographer to put together a more professionally produced piece. The content would generally include an introduction and welcome to the community forum, a brief description of the project, and a call to arms to get involved in the conversation.
An extension of the simple welcome video is to put together something a little more sophisticated that explains the project (or issue) in significantly more detail. This would address the key questions: What does the project entail; why are we doing this; when are we doing it; how is going to be delivered; who is doing the work; where is the project taking place – i.e. who is affected. Once again the production values of such a video could be as simple or as sophisticated as budget allows. The community will forgive (and perhaps even embrace) lower production values in return for good quality information.
A more strategic use of the video functionality is to address the most frequently asked questions put to the project team in some detail. Some of these may the same as the Key Messages, but some may be very specific community concerns about particular aspects of the project. These are the “how will this project impact on me and my community” questions. Whereas the “Key Message” video can be created and uploaded to the web site at the outset of the project, the “Hot Issues” video may need to be revised fairly regularly in response to new concerns. It is more “tactical” and responsive to community concerns and is more suitable to ongoing projects than short-lived consultations.
This one is pretty straight forward. Video your workshop, town hall meeting, Future Search conference, Charette… the list of opportunities is endless. Three things to consider with this option: 1) Get permission from everyone involved, 2) consider very carefully before editing – if your stakeholders feel unfairly represented by your video you will have done more harm than good, and 3) do you need to provide a complete transcription of the content to meet your accessibility requirements? This is a great option for governance transparency when the online engagement process is being paralleled by a physical world process. It lets the rest of the community into the meeting they can’t make or don’t want to attend.
If you want to take the “hot issues” option a step further you can record “interviews” with technical experts to talk through the issues in some detail. This can be done in a variety of formats: A simple piece to camera, a conversation with a trained interviewer (to draw out the most salient information), a dialogue or debate between several specialists. The most important consideration in putting an “expert piece” together are the credentials of your expert. Another consideration is what the media refers to as the quality of the “talent”. Is your specialist a good communicator? Do they have an engaging personality? Will they sustain the interest of the viewer for a short video?
If the project has an impact on the physical environment why not video the site and talk about how the very local issues will be addressed by the project. My background is in environmental planning and infrastructure, so I tend to reference these types of projects, however, this use of video as a tool can equally and powerfully apply to community service and community development projects. If the project is going to have an impact on a place then videoing your project team in that place talking about the issues is, at the very least, evidence that the team is making an effort to understand the local context.
“Fly-Throughs” are loved by architects to demonstrate the visionary nature of their design. They have been used for over 20 years now following the advent of CAD in preference to pens and rulers. The concept can be replicated on a larger scale: Video the route of the new road; hire a plane and fly over the route of the new gas pipeline; use screen capture software to record the computer modelling of your flood modelling… the list is really only limited by ones imagination.
Vox Pops – Citizen Testimony
Something we are seeing more of is organisations going into their communities with a video camera and asking their citizenry questions in the street in style of traditional media vox pops. These are very short interviews which capture a person’s immediate response to an issue. They are useful for gathering and demonstrating that there is a breadth of opinion about a subject – where people occasionally feel that their view is the only one within the community. They are not necessarily “educated” opinions since the subject is not provided with a great deal of information or thinking time prior to the interview. This concept can be taken further by creating a series of longer interviews with citizens as discussion starters. These are generally more thought through, structured and content rich.
All of the above examples are Web 1.0 applications of video technology. They are about giving the community access to better quality information. Of course, this completely ignores the huge potential offered by Web 2.0 technologies to allow the community to generate their own content about the issue at hand. Allowing the community to make video rather than text-based submissions would be a great leap forward for community engagement and government process and is possible in via EngagementHQ’s Q&A tool.
The submissions would inevitably be much more creative providing an opportunity to engage a broader community – think younger people in particular – in the conversation. This would be a particularly useful tool in the context of the more “appreciative” community engagement processes which focus on community assets and opportunities rather than challenges or “issues”. One possibility is to call for “I love this place because…” videos to support “place-making” processes.
That’ll do for now. There are lots of other ways for video to enhance online engagement, particularly at the Web 2.0 end of the spectrum – I’d be keen to hear about examples of government practice in this area.
Thanks for getting all the way to the bottom! Subscribe to our monthly digest newsletter if you’d like to be kept up to date about community engagement practice globally. Take a look at our two product websites: EngagementHQ if you need a complete online engagement solution, and BudgetAllocator if you need a participatory budgeting solution. Or get in touch if you have a story idea you think is worth sharing.