This post, by guest blogger Nick Bowden, is the fifteenth in a month-long series on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. Our guest bloggers are covering the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. Nick originally published this post on his own The Mix Blog just about a week ago on March 27, 2012. We welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.
One of the most common questions we field from existing and prospective clients is “Once our site is up, how do we get participants?” It’s justifiably the most important question of any engagement effort – online or offline. There seems to be a common misconception among Gov 2.0 companies and public agencies that technology will solve engagement woes. The reality of course is much different. Technology doesn’t solve problems, people do. Technology should facilitate better and deeper engagement, enabling citizens to become contributors to their community, but not be viewed as the sole predictor of success.
Our answer to that question has most certainly changed over the course of the last two years. Two years ago we were admittedly apart of this camp – put up an interactive website and droves of people will instantly become engaged. However, we have learned through experience and data that technology is only one part of the equation of successful (total) engagement. Total engagement comes when technology is combined with two C’s. Content and Context.
First things first, let’s start with technology, because it’s still very important. Technology should allow the government agency a diversity of functionality. Crowdsourcing ideas is an important functional element, but so is functionality that supports prioritization, interactive budgeting, and traditional survey questions. Equally important, the public facing design of the technology plays a key role in success. Together, functionality and design provide the foundation for total engagement.
Assuming an agency has adequate technology (preferably MindMixer ) success is contingent on executing the two C’s. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times, content is king. Creating and presenting compelling content is difficult for lots of government agencies. Why? Typically the most successful content is either controversial emotional or non-technical. Government agencies often times fear the emotional and operate in the technical (by requirement). Helping these entities understand the importance of creating and presenting content that yields interest and maintains simplicity is critically important.
Compelling content can change the trajectory of engagement effort instantly. Combining compelling content with context can take a community to even greater heights. Offering participants contextually relevant opportunities to participate makes engagement personal. Context should be driven by demographics, location, and interest. Asking a citizen for ideas about a new streetscape works. Asking a citizen for ideas about a streetscape in their neighborhood works better. Asking a citizen about ideas for a streetscape in their neighborhood, while they are walking on the street brings engagement to an entirely different level. Context creates ownership. Ownership leads to action. Action solves problems.
The engagement technology you choose is important, but it’s only one predictor of success.
Make your content interesting and emotional. Emotion drives interest.
Add context to the conversation. It creates personal ownership.
This post was contributed by Nick Bowden, Co-founder and CEO of MindMixer.