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Firing Up Effective Community Collaboration Policy Formation

One of our public sector clients recently concluded a very successful community consultation project on a matter of public health - obesity. The culmination of the consultation process was a 2 day workshop where key topics were debated. Online community consultation played a major role in making the workshop, and the consultative process, a great success. 

I feel like I know you

The consultative process took place over 6 weeks online, followed by the 2 day workshop. During the 6 weeks papers were published in the community (in this case using Telligent the platform formerly known as Zimbra) and topics were identified for discussion. In fact the total community was divided into 6 sub-communities focused on particular aspects of obesity. The sub-communities then made submissions about the key topics they felt were of most important to be acted upon by the government.

In all 60 topics were nominated. These were then voted upon by members of each sub-community. Those ideas voted the most important were collated together and down-selected by the entire community to form the agenda for the 2 days face-to-face.

The engagement process was facilitated by specialist community engagement consultants, and they worked closely with the public participants to encourage and support their engagement in the online community. In fact although the community platform was a crucial enabler of the process the total technology spend amounted to only 15% of the overall project costs.

The client reported that the most emphatic measure of success of the community platform was the fact that participants arrived fully prepared, and knowledgeable about the topics and each other, at the 2 day workshop. They arrived for their face-to-face meetings:

  • ready to go;
  • knowledgeable about their subject matter;
  • clear on the questions to be resolved; and,
  • with some very clear ideas.

In a previous blog post we wrote about the "six magic words that signal social media success" and those words are "I feel like I know you".  Those magic words are reflected in how the online community participants in this public consultation arrived at their first face-to-face meeting.

This is indeed a powerful outcome of effective social community technology applied well.

Cost-effective community consultation

The client had previously run such consultations as totally face-to-face processes - which were very expensive, and totally online - which were relatively inexpensive but failed to achieve their outcomes.

This was the first designed to be a combination of online and face-to-face. It achieved a very cost-effective outcome.

In fact for what they described as "very little overall cost" and "an insanely short timeframe" it achieved a "very successful outcome as a whole".

Of course there are some lessons to be learnt, many of which reflect the shortcomings of the "insanely short timetable" and the low budget. For example gamification was identified as being important and Telligent allows for very extensive rule-based badging and gamification but in the pressure of the project it was not implemented until more than half-way through the process.

Ad-hoc requirements were also a burden due to the fact that insufficient time was allowed up-front with all the right people to define things more accurately and completely. 

If a similar project was to be undertaken by a client we would recommend more attention be given to:

  1. Running a face-to-face workshop, say a half-day, with the public participants at the beginning of the process for training and familiarisation with the community technology;
  2. Giving more attention to encouraging and recognising participation - gamification; and,
  3. Paying more attention to the specific detailed analytics requirements around the participation and engagement of each community member.

In fact everything that was required can be done by the Telligent platform. It's a matter of analysing, and then deciding on configuration, customisation or integration (through the APIs) along with a project plan and costings. This type of analysis suffered a little in the pressure of the fixed public deadlines for this project.

Overall, a great success in public policy consultation and formation, and a delightful client team. It's an example of "working out loud" in an extended community.

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Walter Adamson 

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