The art of online community engagement: Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority

The art of online community engagement is just that. An artform. We are always banging on to our clients about making sure they select the right online tools for their desired outcomes. And that’s only half of it. Choosing the right tools is one thing, it’s HOW you use them that makes an impact…regardless of the “sex appeal” of your topic or the size of your community.

The Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority (CMA) recently caught our eye with consultation around their annual Catchment Action Plan. It has been fantastic to see how they have embraced a few best practice elements and are reaping the rewards of thoughtful and deliberative engagement with their community. While many organisations aspire to reach triple figure comment numbers, this is a great case of QUALITY information over QUANTITY.

Here’s why we thought they deserved a GOLD STAR (or two)! 

Staged approach and careful tool selection

Before going into a forum discussion, the team chose to combine feedback from their offline Benchmarking Reports, as well as the Values Survey they ran at the start of their online consultation to help shape their forum discussion topics.

Importantly, once the forum was underway, the team identified further community interest points/themes and added three new topics relating specifically to these themes. These have further activated the community to comment and contribute and hone in on the issues that matter most to them. They used EngagementHQ‘s email functionality to invite people back into the conversation.

Personal and active facilitation in the forum


While they have not responded to each and every post (and you don’t have to), the team have been active in their own forum, answering any questions that are raised, thanking the community for feedback, probing into issues further and generally displaying an interest in what the community has to say.


The tone of the CAP team’s responses within their own forum space has been friendly, open and “human”. Here is a fantastic example of the team showing their “human” side. Again, they have used every opportunity to dig into issues further and ask more questions. 

It has been fantastic to see the team list themselves by their first names and participate in the forum space as such. This was a conscious decision by the team as it reflected the personal nature and their connectedness to their community in the offline world.

Here is a fantastic exchange within the forum which really demonstrates their enthusiasm for going the extra mile to help their community.

Rich Content

The team have done a great job of incorporating some great video into their site. My personal favourite is the one explaining what a CAP process and why it is carried out. This quick three minute video really cuts through and makes a compelling case to get involved. This could be further enhanced by embedding it into the introductory text or a news article.

Closed the loop

Often forgotten and one of the most simple and well received gestures of any engagement process. Here are a couple of simple ways Southern Rivers CMA have closed the loop.

  • In their Values Survey, they have asked people to share a photo and caption of a place that is important to them. The team have these images into the photo library. This provides community members with a sense of ownership and inclusion in the greater process.
  • Linking online with offline. The team have loaded the Benchmarking Reports obtained via postal and phone survey prior to the online into the document library so that the community could reference these if required.

So our congratulations go to the Southern Rivers CMA.

Now we’d love to hear from you. In the comments below, tell us what tactics you have used (or seen used) to generate better value/outcomes in an online consultation process?

Photo Credits: Painter Tools

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