I’m forever telling our clients that the first year is the hardest with online community engagement. It takes time to build community awareness and interest in an online engagement platform. Repeat engagement across a range of issues, gradually building the participant database is the surest way to do this.
Just occasionally though, a client comes along who makes it all look easy. One of those instances came up a couple of weeks back. Ville De Gatineau, the Quebec city across the river from Ottawa launched their first site with a cycling strategy.
The site utilizes our places tool to ask cyclists how to improve the cycle network.
I was mightily impressed when 2 days after launch, over 800 contributions had been made to the site. The total has continued to grow with over 1300 pins now placed giving feedback and suggestions on the cycling facilities of the City.
It’s just as well we cluster the pins or you wouldn’t be able to see the map at all!
So how did Ville De Gatineau achieve this? Well, it’s clear that this is a really tangible issue that is very real for the users of the network. That’s the number one tip for getting great engagement – talk about issues of interest to people not about documents or bureaucratic processes.
But how did they get the word out? Anthea Brown, our Canadian Engagement Manager, phoned François Pirart, Active Transportation Coordinator, Urban Planning and Sustainable Development, to find out how it was done.
Astonishingly, given the levels of response, it turns out that the City could only promote the consultation to a limited extent because Gatineau was suffering from flooding at the time. François explained:
“I am very happy considering the flood challenges that needed to take priority. Without the flood I believe we would have had even more participation in the same time frame. This level of participation has helped give effective weight to the active transportation initiative”
The key to getting such a great response seems to have been targeting partner organizations to assist and also some great innovative marketing.
Gatineau was able to partner with local cycling associations to reach out to 600 members and invite them to participate. They also used a bi-weekly newsletter that helped promote the project.
But they didn’t stop there. Despite the floods, François also handed out information about the consultation along the bike route and held a coffee and donut breakfast on the busiest bike route to get people interested.
Clearly it worked! Congratulations to François and the team at Gatineau.