I recently shared a presentation giving my top 10 lessons 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.
– Matthew Crozier, CEO
Lesson #7 was about using engaging content to encourage community participants to become informed about an issue and get involved in the discussion.
It is equally important to provide engaging ways for community members to provide feedback. By engaging, I mean not just asking people to fill out long online surveys, but giving them the opportunity to view other participant feedback, to interact with each other and to enjoy the process of being involved in the discussion.
Have you ever participated in one of those 30-minute online surveys served up to you a couple of questions at a time? I’m betting you didn’t find the experience particularly fulfilling or have much of a sense of being involved in a community.
Whilst online surveys have their place, just as we don’t use one technique all the time in face-to-face citizen participation events, nor should we have only one method in online citizen participation.
Similarly, I sometimes see great tools used in strange ways. For example, a crowd-sourcing tool for collecting and voting on community ideas is great at the start of a consultation process where you are looking to understand all the options but it’s a really lousy way to discuss the pros and cons of a draft policy.
It’s important to pick the right tools for the right circumstances and the more a community can participate in a discussion in an open manner, the more inviting participation is likely to be.
Let me show you a few brief examples of engaging feedback tools.
The first is from a site run by the City of Montreal and is an urban planning project. The city has invited the community to leave comments in the form of pins on a map. As you can see the consultation has received a large degree of participation. If you go to their engagement site you may also note the high amount of information provided about the project.
The second is the City of Perth in Australia who used our Brainstormer tool to collect ideas from the community on how to work together for a more sustainable future.
And thirdly, another Canadian site, “Shape Seniors Care,” uses storytelling to build community understanding around old age care. Storytelling is a particularly powerful way of increasing knowledge around an issue.
Of course, there are plenty of other engagement tools that can be used to encourage community participation including discussion forums, question and answer tools and even some gamification tools. To get the best out of online citizen participation it’s important to use both the right feedback tool for the circumstance and to challenge yourself to step beyond surveys to create an engaging and interactive space for the community.