I recently had the privilege of sitting in on an Open Government Webinar hosted by the World Bank, which discussed the growing need and strategy involved in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Facilitated Citizen Engagement. Joining in on the discussion were engaged voices from countries across the globe, who gathered for one hour to learn, discuss and ask questions about the benefits and best practices of ICT citizen engagement.
From the discussion, there were a number of ideas that really stuck with me. Most notably, it was the notion that the innovative delivery of public services is only possible when stakeholders are capable of and willing to deal with participatory innovations. This is where ICT plays an instrumental role, and with implementing ICT, there is a need to make participation sustained and sustainable.
The World Bank shed light on the importance of managing citizen expectations, providing the following equation:
S= R – E
Satisfaction = Results – Expectations
Basically, even if a consultation has a positive outcome, if citizens had expected higher results, their satisfaction level will ultimately be negative. When you start down the path of public engagement, it is crucial to not only consider the result, but how you manage expectations around it. In a large way, a strengthened result comes from fulfilled expectations.
This leads us to another relevant point. Clearly we want a good result, which inevitably means we need fulfilled expectations. Before we can fulfill expectations, we must first be strategic in whose expectations we’re trying to manage. In communications, you always hear about this idea of “targeting your audience”. It is the pinnacle trademark of any effective campaign – to know who you’re talking to. In the case of public engagement, as discussed in the webinar, if you’re going to engage, you have to know why you’re engaging, and who you want to hear from. Without this solid foundation, you cannot have a solid result. Further to this, as Simon Burall, Director of UK-based Involve, mentions in his blog, an important thing to remember is “if the public can’t change or influence the decision, then don’t engage.” It’s as simple as that. Keep it targeted, strategic, and know what you want to retrieve, and from whom. Only then will you get the best result.
Once you’ve solidified your target audience and objective, that’s when it’s time to get creative with your ICT’s. The key thing to remember about information and communication tools is how well you manage them. You can have all the resources in the world at your fingertips, but it’s all about how you use them. The most important things to remember are:
- Allow for multiple channels of participation (offline, online, mobile);
- Target them to the right group; and,
- Always enable different degrees of participation.
Once your audience has been engaged, the next step is getting their feedback. Participants like to know that their opinion was taken into account. It’s natural human instinct to seek closure. It works much like the lottery; they communicate who the winner is, so everyone knows there was an outcome. Completing the feedback loop must essentially become ritualistic; there needs to be an ongoing dialogue, so that participant opinions are not only heard, but are responded to.
When it comes to wrapping up a consultation, we must: “Learn to evaluate, evaluate to learn.” This is something we strongly support here at Ascentum. At the end of most consultations, we hand out evaluation forms for participants to fill out and provide feedback on their experience. This is critical in public engagement. Every consultation is unique, and as mentioned in the webinar, “each project is innovating, and each operation is innovating in itself.” Because of this, we have a responsibility to assess ourselves every step of the way, and always learn how we can improve. Only then, once again, can we ensure the best result each time around.
Sustained engagement isn’t an easy objective, but it’s initiatives like these that bring us closer to finding answers. As Ascentum continues to learn and grow, we will continue to tap into valuable sources like World Bank for powerful lessons on citizen engagement.