In the face of all that has happened in 2020, and before I reflect on the year at Bang the Table, I want to acknowledge that not everyone has been fortunate. After COVID-19, fires, hurricanes, and a brutal US election cycle, there are a lot of stressed, grieving, sick and anxious people in the world at the moment and I hope 2021 will bring relief for everyone.
While the start of the pandemic was uncertain, I am hugely relieved that the instinct of government organizations that we do business with globally was to keep engaging. The pandemic could have been used as an excuse to do less. Instead, most have used it as a catalyst to achieve more. This speaks volumes of the integrity and professionalism of government leaders who were under a great deal of stress themselves.
The Practice of Engagement
For us as a business, we have felt the importance of our mission more than ever. When we first entered lockdown, it became clear that we (and our colleagues in the online engagement space) represented the only way left to engage with governments. Cities, councils, and counties who had already invested in building an engaged online community were much better placed to get the right information out and to listen to their residents. To support this journey for everyone, we quickly found ourselves sharing all sorts of innovations around COVID-19 engagement.
In the year of the ‘Zoom meeting’ we were often a lone voice arguing for a reassessment of the practice. As one of my colleagues Jeremy put it, ‘lemonade without the lemons is just sugar water’. And, so it is for trying to mimic face-to-face engagement without being face-to-face. ‘Zoom fatigue’ soon became part of the language and many practitioners reversed their rush to Zoom in favor of giving the community time and using online engagement tools to provide flexibility and get more participation.
We’ve hit some big milestones this year. Our team is now 100-people strong (and what an amazing team we are!). We now support over 700 organizations in their engagement efforts, it’s the first time we’ve welcomed more than 200 new clients to EngagementHQ in a single year. Together, we’ve launched over 14,000 engagement projects, informed nearly nine million people across the globe, and captured over one million points of community input and feedback. It’s a massive effort by all and I’m incredibly proud of the work you put out into the world.
We had some big goals for EngagementHQ this year and it’s been exciting to see how the platform has evolved to solve the challenges you are pressed with every day. The introduction of AI and improvements to text analysis have helped simplify reporting and made it easier to analyze large sets of text comments and understand community sentiment. We introduced SMS communication as a new channel to help you reach more people. We launched a new admin interface to streamline how projects are created as well as the new Appearance Editor to help you create a custom-designed engagement portal that compliments your brand. New supporting features have simplified the registration process while showcasing projects of interest for community members, making it easier to participate. And while our new Submissions Manager is in phase one, it streamlines the management of documents and written submissions, which should be a real time saver when engaging a lot of people. While the evolution of EngagementHQ began in 2020, we won’t stop there.
2021: Engage Everyone
The ever-growing adoption of online community engagement has successfully helped government organizations move from engaging tens of people to engaging thousands of people. As one of the first and most globally expansive developers in the industry, the increased demand from stakeholders and organizations alike leads us to one unified and ambitious rally cry, ‘Engage Everyone’.
How do we do this? We need to make it much much easier to get inputs from all members of the community, even hard to reach members. We need to make it more meaningful and rewarding for the community to participate. And we need to make it much easier for our clients to access and interrogate much larger amounts of data.
As we come out of the pandemic, we will find that the last barriers to the digitization of government services have been swept aside. Change has happened and that change will take root. There is no going back from here.
Up to now, I think it is fair to say that our software has supported best practices in online community engagement. Moving forward, we expect EngagementHQ to lead industry best practice and product functionality for any organization with an issue to engage on. We are investing in our platform and teams to achieve this. Some of you have already been involved in our research, giving feedback and insight into how we can take the practice of community engagement to the next level. It will take some time, but you will see the early results of this work before the end of 2021.
On a personal note, I look forward to seeing our teams around the world in person again. I don’t think business travel will ever be quite the same now that we are all used to Zoom meetings, but Zoom can never replace the personal interactions we have with our colleagues. I can’t get that vaccine fast enough! Now take the lemons, lessons, and challenges this year has provided and turn them into the sweet-tasting lemonade we all hope for in the new year. We’ll continue to be here for you, every step of the way.