Adapting the 90-9-1 rule for online citizen engagement

The 90-9-1 rule has been applied to online citizen engagement with commercial and not-for-profit sites for many years.

Regular readers of this blog will have seen a presentation I delivered in a couple of different forms a number of years ago about the application of the 90-9-1 rule to online community engagement. You’ll find the presentation slides, Getting more people involved: Keeping more people involved, here.

The presentation was based on the thinking of many earlier bloggers about the implications of “participation inequality” for online community engagement. The reality is that participation inequality is far from unique to online engagement. It is probably the single most problematic issue confronting community engagement practitioners on a daily basis.

Some people will always participate willingly and great deal (more than you might like).

Others will need to be dragged, cajoled and bribed – incentivised – into participating.

Others still will simply never participate. No matter how hard you try.

When it comes to the 90-9-1 “rule”, the only difference between the online and offline spaces is that it is much easier to measure and therefore make judgements about, online behaviour.

Authors note: please be aware that the “rule” as described in lots of blogs in no way constitutes a “rule” for online community engagement. The numbers will vary dramatically from issue to issue, and consultation to consultation depending on many many variables. But that is a topic for another day.

The graphic above presents a conceptual framework that I find useful when thinking about community participation in the online consultations we are involved in.

90-9-1 rule Figure: Conceptual model of a typology of community participants in an online consultation. Note that the numbers are for illustration purposes only. Actual numbers will vary from project to project.

There are five major groups:

  1. Committed – This is the smallest group by far; generally much less than 1% of all site visitors. These are the people who it is easy to be annoyed by at first glance. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that they are the trolls. And sometimes they may be, which is why moderation is important. But they may also be the participants who drive the conversations to far great depths of analysis. They are the unofficial group facilitators who provoke other participants to think more deeply about the rationale for their position.
  2. Engaged – This is the group who have plunged into the interactive elements of your site. They may have joined a forum, filled in a survey, asked a question, or told their story.
  3. Informed – This group have taken the time to access your information resources – documents, images, videos, FAQs, blogposts.
  4. Aware – This group have found their way to your site, but that’s it. They haven’t explored deeply or joined in in any way.
  5. Everybody Else – Those we don’t reach through the consultation process. They are either unaware of the project, uninterested in the project, or disinterested in the project. While we can’t be sure of the size of these three sub-groups, it is important to recognise the differences between them, because the strategies we use to draw them into the consultation will be quite different. The “unaware” require better promotional strategies to get involved; the “uninterested” may require better incentives to get involved; the “disinterested” may require a more compelling explanation of the impacts of your project to get involved.

The “Committed” and “Engaged” groups can also be broken down into two sub-groups of those who are informed (by reference to their onsite exploration activities) and those who are uninformed.

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