This guest blog is by Amanda Nagl, US Practice Lead at Bang the Table.
The best indicator of online success takes place offline–at the planning table before fingers even hit the keyboard. The time and energy spent properly framing a project and associated timeline, are critical. Proper alignment can be the difference between project success or turmoil where the design of engagement opportunities become the focus. Regardless of the scope of the engagement, these ten steps will prove helpful every time and may even become a checklist for your organization–providing consistency and creating a debrief guide to be utilized post-process.
10 Steps for a Strategic Approach to Public Participation:
1. Craft a Clear Problem Statement.
Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, as outlined in his book Start with Why, provides a great basis for clarity and encourages focus on values–an approach that can help in an otherwise polarized dialogue. Consider your engagement process like a research paper with an objective to best align public input as the primary source answering the question(s) posed.
2. Provide Context, Background Information, & Data.
When looking for meaningful feedback, documents have to be broken down into bite-size chunks for the online space if you are looking for feedback; if you are only looking to warehouse this information for the few that want/need a deeper dive, storing giant pdfs is a fine approach. Simply bringing over all of the boards utilized for an open house will not do it. Rather, you will need to produce short videos, infographics or bullets of information that will summarize information from in-person resources. There is perhaps nothing worse than failing to share data from previous community discussions, then later having the community present it as though it was purposefully being hidden. Get out in front of projects that have started and stopped in the past; share your learnings and pick up where you left off.
3. After ‘Why’, Start with ‘Who’.
Identify target groups and key ways to reach them, particularly if a particular tool or procedure has been effective with the same group in the past. Setting goals and measuring the demographics of who you are reaching will help allocate your resources throughout the project.
4. Analyze Risk.
Identify clear risks and potential impact of those risks to make good budgetary and process decisions. All risks are not created equal–think through the likelihood of a risk occurring and the impact if it does occur. Use that thought process to either plan and prepare, monitor, or ignore potential risks throughout the project.
5. Have a Strategy behind your Tool Selection.
Tools should be chosen with the end in mind, to a degree. How will you utilize reports for decision making? Do you need quantifiable or qualitative data or a mixture? Is the information confusing? Has the project timeline been extended? If so, make sure you allow for questions from the public throughout the engagement. Mirror your key in-person questions and plan to combine the data for streamlined reporting. Tools should make your job easier; not harder.
6. Use Communication Channels, Social Media and More.
Use social media and other communication channels to push information out and drive traffic to your engagement site so that all input can be included and measured from one place.
7. Implement with your Strategy in Mind.
There are lots of ways to make good questions great but starting with proactive, forward-thinking and solution-oriented framing will likely lead to a more productive dialogue.
8. Be Transparent with your Reporting, Analysis and Feedback Loop.
Sharing graphs and charts with the public for a brief glimpse into the project will serve the masses well while a full report (like the one you give to Council or the Executive Team) can and should be linked on the site for those that prefer a deeper dive. Be sure you pull out the primary three bullet points for the more casual participant or even make a short summary video. Utilizing the same resource/software/application for multiple projects, and across multiple departments, will create muscle memory for participants–saving time for everyone.
9. Evaluate, Improvise and Close your Project with the Public in Mind.
Give the public an opportunity to tell you what they liked about the engagement for a project and what they would like in the future. Keep evaluations short and on point, so people feel their time is valued. Link the evaluation directly under your report or provide ongoing evaluation opportunities by project phase but don’t isolate evaluation as an “extra” request of the public.
10. Build Community Capacity.
Every project should leave the public at a higher level of engagement competency. Keep “rules” as similar as possible and utilize tools frequently enough that you don’t need to teach something new every time. Use tools that are intuitive and require little direction, when possible. Make sure you keep participation spaces safe–moderation online is actually much easier than live facilitation so take advantage of it for a deep dive.
For a deeper dive into this 10 step process and related case studies, join Amanda Nagl for a webinar on the same topic: Thursday, August 29, 209 at 1 pm MST.
This material can be expanded and personalized for training within a specific organization; as a 3 or 5-hour workshop intended to set a framework for policy development. If you are interested in learning more about this possibility, contact Amanda Nagl.
Amanda Nagl, US Practice Lead, Bang the Table
Amanda Nagl has led community conversations and engagement efforts in three of Colorado’s front-range cities as a professional problem solver, in local government, for almost 20 years. She has more than a decade of experience focused on criminal justice reform, emphasizing community-based solutions and involvement, at local and state levels. She has worked in municipal departments ranging from police to planning to the city manager’s office. Amanda has created and managed School Resource Officer programs and worked in schools through the development of student mediation, restorative discipline programs, and management of school resource officers. She has provided consultation for community-centered program development in many US states. Spurred by the desire to have an impact on healing divisions in US communities, Amanda transitioned to Bang the Table. Her work is to assist organizations in the creation of consistent, comprehensive community engagement strategies, utilizing online tools as a mechanism for inclusion.