The Business Case For Digital Community Engagement

Before you can even start talking about the detail of your digital engagement strategy, you will need to address one core question with your senior management: Why should our organisation be even thinking about engaging the community online?

It’s easy to get ahead of yourself when you are already a believer in the merits and value that digital engagement can deliver any organisation. In doing so, it is all to easy to leave people behind who may not have been exposed to digital engagement platforms, or haven’t seen them in action as organisational spaces, or haven’t had the arguments laid out clearly.

I have been guilty of this, quite recently actually. Having been immersed in the subject for nearly a decade, I was reminded of the need to go back to first principles during a 2-day Digital Engagement Masterclass that I facilitated with 25 public servants in Wellington, New Zealand, last month.

We were having a great conversation about designing a digital engagement strategy in the context of public policy development. Though it became clear that for many people in the room, their organisations were not yet at the starting line. Before we could productively discuss engagement strategy, we needed to have a conversation about building the business case for senior management to buy-in to ‘digital’ as an organisational engagement strategy.

Now a business case naturally covers off on a lot of issues – risks and their mitigation, resourcing requirements, responsibility assignation and delegation requirements, infrastructure, costs etc – but the very first question that needs to be covered off is the “why” (or, what are the benefits).

So, as a group we addressed this question head on. Below is the (slightly edited) list of the answers to the question: Why engage our community online? The business case for digital community engagement.

  1. Digital is convenient for the audience.
  2. Digital allows you to reach the harder to reach audience in order to get a more representative view of issues – specifically, people who are time poor and find public meetings inaccessible.
  3. Digital may be safer than face-to-face engagement in certain circumstances.
  4. Digital can lower the cost of higher quality (in terms of reach) engagement by reaching more people.
  5. Community engagement generally, and digital engagement specifically, addressed the need within the community to allow community members to be “part of governance” rather than “having government done to them.”
  6. Digital makes analysis easier if built in data mining tools are available.
  7. Digital provides evidence of open and transparent government.
  8. The broader engagement provided by a larger digital audience moderates the power of the executive which protects democracy and protects the executive from itself.
  9. Digital permits rich media formats for content and information dissemination.
  10. Digital allows conversations to evolve through time (where face-to-face requires participants to ‘think and respond in the moment’), and therefore has the potential to be more of a dialogue – a conversation instead of broadcast.
  11. Digital makes it easier to measure the effectiveness of different channels.
  12. Digital makes it easier to segment the audience for targeting.
  13. Digital demonstrates a commitment to the community through accessibility.
  14. Digital helps identify (and avoid) real problems/issues  – issues of significance to the broader community – quickly.
  15. Digital allows the consulting organisation to leverage other and organisational networks more easily.
  16. There is an immediacy about digital that speeds up the feedback process – this allows you to address myths, misconceptions and inaccuracies quickly.
  17. Better quality dialogue through broader digital engagement means more community buy-in to decisions.
  18. Digital allows the engaging organisation to present as a leader in contemporary government.
  19. Digital can be more fun.
  20. Digital is more environmentally friendly.

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