The City of Kamloops online engagement hub, Let’s Talk Kamloops, has seen over 21,000 visits and 6,800 engaged, informed, and aware participants in its first six months.
The City of Kamloops’ latest investment in growing their culture of citizen engagement reveals an array of promising opportunities and positive outcomes for staff, planners, and citizens. The dedicated online engagement space allows the City to keep the community educated and up-to-date on developments and access engagement opportunities and issues ranging from waste management, transportation to cannabis retail, to name only a few. It also allows the City to close the loop on engagement, giving participants the means to check back on the conversation and understand the impact and outcomes of their contributions.
Why the City of Kamloops took the conversation online
Initially, Kamloops had no significant online engagement and over 50 open house events. For a relatively small community of under one hundred thousand people, the risk of engagement fatigue ran high, especially when these events tended to attract the same participants.
In light of decreasing attendance, and faced with the need to reach out beyond the usual crowd to the wider community, the City felt the need for change. It was time to find a way to draw new and more voices into the conversation. Online engagement enabled this change, taking the conversation to the community and giving people a way to participate from the comfort and convenience of their homes and mobile devices. Enthusiastic internal buy-in and community embrace supported the transformation.
Initially, the question of moving to an online platform appeared to be a question of making the change at the right time. With a downtown plan on the cards, the City reflected on internal and community needs and looked to an online platform that could speak to their overall engagement requirements. Following an extensive evaluation process, EngagementHQ was selected for a trial. The engagement team held the platform up to a set of internal metrics, taking into account educational and engagement capabilities, reporting capabilities, how the platform measured engagement, ease of use, and internal adoption.
The trial run saw the community welcome the platform, weighing in readily on surveys and forum discussions, and staying informed. This early success remains a promising indicator of how the community continues to respond to online engagement.
How did the conversation gather traction in the online space?
“What are we doing with face-to-face engagement and how can we manage that online? Having an opportunity for those who are not able to attend an open house, to be able to have the exact same experience from the comfort of their own home” – Brynn Perszon, City of Kamloops Communication Advisor
A primary consideration for taking the conversation online was to take limited offline discussions and opportunities into the wider community and allow people to have their say at their convenience.
This spoke to the need to integrate messaging and communications to stay consistent across various traditional and digital media and ultimately drive traffic and participation to the site. The key focus was to ensure that the community knew about the new engagement platform, and that they could provide their input without needing to make it to offline events.
With a newly strengthened strategic communications and engagement team in place, the City invested in online engagement as a way of life. In a bid to make engagement truly mobile and accessible, the City made online engagement a part of daily conversations and reports, connecting the new platform to its communications and activating interest across the board, both internally and externally.
What lessons did the online space bring to community engagement in Kamloops?
An unexpected outcome from the use of the online space was the change in the tone of the conversation. In contrast to the noticeable decline in the tone and quality of conversations on social media, discussions on the platform were sustained in professional and respectful ways. This did not indicate any lack of disagreement or debate or questioning. Rather, it spoke to how the platform supported true, respectful conversations that overcame the limitations of discourse dominated by negative voices as typically seen on social media. The platform also allowed the City to respond to online and offline rumours and controversial material by redirecting the conversation towards the information, clarity, and respectful discourse enabled by the online engagement space.
Another surprising outcome was the high numbers of visitors to the site who would access resources and inform themselves but not necessarily use the interactive tools. This mirrored a pattern in the open houses of offline engagement, where people would come in and listen but not necessarily contribute to the conversation.
EngagementHQ allowed for these numbers to be measured, giving the engagement team a picture of the high number of participants who were coming online to educate themselves, stay informed, watch videos, and explore various projects.
How does Kamloops shape and manage online engagement?
With dedicated communications advisors at City departments and a community engagement division, the City benefits from strategic advice on how best to address the needs and goals of each situation.
The City takes the goals and objectives of the projects into consideration, working with internal client groups and stakeholders to determine whether they would need to inform or engage on a project. If a project were to warrant engagement, but not necessarily bring in high traffic, or would only speak to a specific type of stakeholder, the platform could support a number of ways to create a conversation with targeted groups.
Keeping the community informed remains a key priority for the City. The educational capabilities of the site came through in how the City was able to provide comprehensive information around the recent cannabis regulations. This meant providing resources to explain to the public what they could expect, what it meant to have various legislation and changes in place, and how they could orient themselves to these changes.
“What we have found is that there is such an internal excitement for this tool that clients are coming to us and asking for it.” – Wendy Heshka, City of Kamloops Manager of Communications
How did the email function on EngagementHQ enable the City to create, sustain, and close the loop on vital conversations? What could thinking outside the box bring to engagement and why did Kamloops choose EngagementHQ on their journey towards a culture of citizen engagement?