Creating and cultivating an online community panel

Creating and cultivating an online community panel is a cost effective way to continually engage your community.

One of the biggest challenges when embarking on any online engagement project is getting your community to pay attention to your consultation and even better, actually engage with you in the space over the long term (particularly for local government).

We have written about Managing Consultation Fatigue here, but wanted to share a real world case study on how Willoughby City Council is making great inroads in this area.

The Council introduced an effective approach to building their online community by inviting people to participate in a formal community panel process.

Willoughby City Council has used EngagementHQ for several years, however the concept of the community panel was only introduced about 12 months ago. Since its introduction, the Council’s online engagement space has enjoyed a steady increase in both participants and participation.

So how did they do it?

Firstly, the Council established some basic requirements for membership on the community panel. These included a requirement to make at least four comments a month during a six month period, with opportunities to lead discussions on important issues, attend council events and win prizes for contributions.

The Council provided the community with the opportunity to raise and suggest topics for discussion on the site, empowering them to really have a say and contribute to the Council’s agenda. This ensured the space remained active and included a wide range of discussion topics to accommodate the broad cross section of community interests.

Finally, the Council also took an active role in participating in the forums by actively answering any queries that were raised and directing community members to further information and resources.

Here is one example of this active participation.

After the initial six month period, and following the substantial increase in participation, the Council opened up its forum space and removed any formal requirements of the panel members. This step was taken to ensure community members did not suffer from consultation fatigue. The Council’s forum spaces continue to enjoy active community engagement.

The results?

Among other increases, most notably over the past 12 months, the site has increased its number of visitors and its daily page views tenfold.

Here is a snapshot comparison of the two years. Community panels were introduced in November 2011.

Nov 2010 – Nov 2011

Nov 2011 – Nov 2012

Site Visits  6,525 41,668
Visitors  1,856  11,218
Registered Participants  105  379
Comments  174  735
Average Daily Page Views  20  200

Want to find out more about cultivating your community panel?

EngagementHQ cultivates your community panel by gently prising open public issues and revealing key areas of concern that may have slipped beneath your radar. And, there are five different ways you can configure EngagementHQ to suit your community panel requirements:

  1. Closed
  2. Targeted
  3. Transparent
  4. Transitional
  5. Shared

Download our Community Panel Brochure to find out more about these configurations.

Photo credit: amira_a not WORKING ON MY TAN

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