I recently shared a presentation giving my top 10 tips for online citizen engagement with a group of engagement professionals in Vancouver, Canada and thought there may be value in sharing them more widely.
These are lessons learned in collaboration with over 300 clients and more than 4000 online engagement projects in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA, using the EngagementHQ platform to reach out to the community and engage them at different levels.
I’ve been publishing these one lesson at a time to make them bite-sized. This is the final post in the series (phew!).
Citizen engagement can be a fraught activity with participants often left dissatisfied if they feel their contributions are not duly considered in the decision-making process. Though it can be difficult to provide feedback to participants in a face-to-face process, online engagement provides no such barriers and actually presents a fantastic opportunity to engage further with the community.
Firstly, website content can be updated to reflect the changing nature of a project and update site visitors about the status of the consultation. This helps an organisation be transparent about the consultation process.
Secondly, a specialist engagement platform such as EngagementHQ provides further communications functionality. Namely, our newsletter function provides the opportunity to directly email project participants with targeted emails and updates about a project. This builds community trust and increases the probability of people participating in future consultations.
Thirdly, you can share the reports that you write on the results of your engagement process on the site for additional transparency.
It always surprises me, given its importance, how rarely organisations actually close the loop on their online engagement projects. I cannot reiterate enough the importance of this step; a consultation only finishes when participants are informed about a project’s outcomes.
The City of Gosford in NSW, Australia do a great job of closing the loop by publishing an annual summary document for each of their EngagementHQ projects with a ‘you said, we did’ structure.
This is something of a gold standard for closing the loop, though many organisations we work with neither have the time or the budget to produce a publication of this quality.
However, there is still a lot that can be achieved at no extra cost. The Vancouver Airport Master Plan in British Columbia, Canada provides another great example of closing the loop on an online engagement project.
As you can see, the YVR site maps out the consultation process clearly and provides visible links to the master planning report, making this important data available to the whole community. This is very easy to set up and provides the community with the respect of being kept informed about a consultation’s outcomes.
Closing the loop is an integral part of citizen engagement, it should not be just an afterthought. Consistently closing the loop on project consultations will help erode community cynicism about the engagement process and diminish poor community attitudes towards government.