Online Public Participation is a Process
By Pierre Killeen, Vice President, Public Engagement
A current project has brought home the fact that success in online participation is about the process. If you follow the process, you will have success. If you don’t follow the process, success may come or it may not. Here’s the story that demonstrates the point about process.
It’s probably best to start with a definition of success in online public participation. In my experience, I have found that success in this domain is quantitative – it’s about the numbers. Decision-makers (and practitioners) want to know: How many people visited the site? How many people posted comments? How many people shared your content? These are the things that matter to decision makers.
Why do these things matter more than the quality of the interactions or the ability to help people understand the issues? The answer is that online public participation is treated as an insurance policy. Decision-makers look to online participation as a way to say to their constituents – we provided you with ample opportunity to share your thoughts and we had X thousands of people take us up on the opportunity. It should also be about exploring where people are on the issues, helping them to understand the issues from the perspectives of others, and building a sense of ownership in the decisions, but that’s for another blog post!
Digital public engagement platforms
Now, on to the story about success in online public participation. Recently, a client asked us to develop an online consultation platform for them (we have our own dialogue platform that we customize for clients, it’s called Corum). I submitted a proposal that included the development and execution of an engagement strategy along with the platform, but the client opted for the platform only.
A few weeks into the dialogue, I checked in with our client to learn that the participation numbers were underwhelming. We then offered to help and deployed a quick program designed to drive awareness and engagement. We launched the program and were able to quintuple the number of comments the first day. Visits to the site traffic jumped 600% in 24 hours. How did we do this? We followed a proven process that uses digital methods to reach out to people.
To consult with people online, you have to reach out to them online.
I’d welcome your thoughts or be happy to chat. You can follow me Twitter at @pkilleen or send me a note at Killeen<at>thornleyfallis.com.
Next week’s topic is the six steps in the online public participation process.