Community Engagement is a very visible and effective step on the path of digital transformation. Communities need personalised, targeted communications in order for them to feel that they are getting value from their council on the services they care about. With so many places where people can find information it is becoming harder to cross the digital divide. Because of the sheer diversity of available communication channels, it is easy for communities to feel disengaged because they just don’t know where to look.
When communities feel engaged they have trust in their authorities and will contribute more effectively allowing councils to steer resources more efficiently. These community insights may identify gaps and issues potentially not known or recognised to the councils. This kind of information is crucial in planning and delivering services that will actually make a difference to the communities they are serving.
Strategically, community engagement is exactly that first step in true digital transformation. Imagine the community being able to interact on topics that then generate workflows for service providers without the cost of council interaction, all based around a prescribed rule set. Where resources only go where they are needed.
Maybe one day with Smart Cities, communities will use these resources to effectively ‘serve themselves’. That is the dream. So, thinking about today’s actions with tomorrow’s outcomes means that starting an engagement plan now is taking that first step to a sustainable future.
The challenge faced by most councils is what the plan should encompass and where should they start. The option to do something to satisfy the immediate need can lead to stranded projects with no future. This is a natural tendency as the pace of digital transformation is urging leaders to act fast. The following are our top tips on initial short-term engagement actions with one eye on your long-term strategic transformation plan.
Here is a list of top tips to improve community engagement in local government:
Tip 1: Mobile integration
We all spend an increasing amount of our day on our phones. Whether it's browsing social media, answering a call or checking emails, our phones seem to be with us 24/7. Today, mobile applications are taking the lead. Websites, email, online engagement tools must be mobile-friendly to be useful and to optimise the experience. With geo-tagging common place it is simple enough for users to subscribe to information pertinent to their favourite locations. This means that you can target content about schools, emergencies, traffic & transport or public services right into the pockets of those who want to know. This immediately improves the sense of engagement as communities get the exact information they want.
Tip 2: Create beautiful content
Beautiful content doesn't necessarily mean engaging with a costly graphic designer or including imagery. Beautiful content means putting your heart into your writing and using words to connect with your audience. Story-telling and anecdotes are effective ways to engage with people.
A small message with a simple graphic to illustrate the point can be just as powerful. In mobile applications ‘less is more’. Simple, strong messages delivered to the user with click-through content is far more engaging than busy websites that people have to look for.
Tip 3: Have a genuine voice
People are more willing to listen to what you have to say if your message is compelling and meaningful. Honestly communicate your project or policy ideas to your community. The community is more likely to trust you if you communicate with a genuine voice and demonstrate your willingness to listen. Gaining and holding trust is a challenge for many organisations. Low levels of trust can undermine even the most considered engagement approach - don't rush in, look for opportunities to find some common ground.
Tip 4: Software integration
Have a strategy in place to drive engagement. This may include using an online engagement platform where you can integrate mobile and social media platforms to drive traffic to your engagement hub.
Consider using a prize incentive, create a video or communicate the value and weight of the communities involved in a particular project. Incentives don't need to be costly - fun or useful is a good place to start.
Strategically this does mean that engaging with the end-user will one day be a trigger for an internal workflow that drives service provision. With a plethora of integration tools available this doesn’t mean that you need to throw away your ERP or CRM systems and start all over again. Thinking smart about 3rd party tools that ‘glues’ everything else together as a cost effective means of creating a smart council poised for sustainability.
Tip 5: Data is King
Use a combination of community engagement tactics. Applying both online and offline mechanisms will give you a more rounded response. A focus group is an effective offline measure to get the ball rolling, you can create focus groups based on demographic information, postcodes or even segmented stakeholder lists. The results from engaging with focus groups can give valuable insights about how to best interact with the local community and stakeholders and what to be aware of before interacting.
Tip 6: Retargeting
Don’t forget the communications and marketing process doesn't stop once your project is live. This is a crucial, you need to expose your community to the project several times before they're likely to engage.
Some online platforms which allow for retargeting include Facebook and Google Adwords. If you're restricted on time, consider marketing tools like Adroll, a retargeting and prospecting platform.
Tip 7: Maximize diversity
Your community will be comprised of many cultures and demographic groups. It is important to understand these groups and plan your engagement activities accordingly. Consider anything that may influence barriers to entry such as culture, language, gender or age when planning for engagement to ensure all groups have equal access to get involved in decisions that impact them.
Tip 8: Reporting back
It’s likely that community members will want to know how their opinions have influenced the final decision. Communicate your engagement outcomes and inform the community of the next steps. Consider using infographics or even a video discussing the process as well as the end-result.
Thinking back to Tip 4 there are so many tools today that can create dashboards and analytics. With so many Cloud-Based solutions you have a cost effective model that means you use what you want just when you want it.
Dashboards of course can be re-played back into the communities to engage them on how responsive you have been in delivering successful outcomes to them. Never be scared of sharing the good news.
Think about how you can focus on being a leader in this space by making best-practice the norm. It has been said that a visionary leader is constantly and flexibly adjusts the lenses to meet the needs of their audience. We agree and feel this applies perfectly to community engagement, it’s important to think about what the audience wants and adjust to their needs.