Lesson #3: Think Beyond A 6-Week Campaign And Be There When People Need You
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.
I’m going to publish these one lesson at a time to make them bite-sized. This is the third post in the series.
Matthew Crozier, CEO
This is an extension on the argument for using a platform-based approach to community engagement (see lesson 1). Most online engagement projects are made up of multiple phases, and typically, only a few of these will involve consulting or actively listening to the community. Unfortunately, the timing of community members becoming interested in a project and of the timing of consultative phases often don’t coincide.
The traditional way to engage the community is to set a 6-week or other fixed period for engagement, to work really hard in that period, to elicit community views, and then to disappear from view while the information is collated and decisions are made.
The problem with this approach is when a member of the community’s curiosity about a project does not coincide with the consultative phase then you simply are not there. Faced with these circumstances, people are likely to look in other places for their information and this loss of control represents really poor risk management on behalf of your project. Community members in these circumstances are very likely to turn to passionate community groups on Facebook or elsewhere to get their knowledge, which means they may be accessing imbalanced information from vested interest groups.
We advise clients to take a full life approach to online engagement for their project. By activating and deactivating engagement tools as appropriate to different project phases, it is quite possible to do this without adding significantly to the project workload. Indeed, being there with the right information at the right time can save a great deal of pain by ensuring you are there to answer community questions when they are asked. Just maintaining a Q&A tool and newsfeed (and then activating more engaging tools when they are needed) ensures your community can always come to you to ask questions and get the right information when they need it.
I have chosen this masterplan for Vancouver International Airport to illustrate this point.
This particular page has an active Q&A tool where the project team is actively and transparently responding to community questions. This actually saves resources because it builds a database of answers for the community to search through and it also creates a very transparent record of your responsiveness to the community throughout the project.
Read Lesson 1: Use An Online Engagement Platform To Build Your Community
Read Lesson 2: Use Online Engagement To Spread Reach Of Engagement Activities, Not Replace Them