30 responses

  1. What about: ‘bad engagement doesn’t become good engagement because it’s done online’.

    For example, a local authority that just introduces a comments section to its press releases will be giving a space for opponents to attack it, setting the tone for the rest of the engagement and scaring off other participants unless it sets rules for the engagement: why contribute, what will be done with your contribution, what’s open for debate, what are the context / policy restrictions etc

  2. Interesting stuff, if i’m honest i’m struggling to see the purpose of the principles without understanding the wider framework they support. You mentions digital engagement and social media strategy, i think the principles fit social media strategy, but don’t fit digital engagement…

    I’m looking at the same thing here for Devon and i have used principles, but in a generic sense. For example follow these principles when going online.

    However, i am coming up against issues around, what does it offer, what value can it bring, what skills do i need (Online facilitation etc), the culture needs changing, what is “digital engagement”.

    I’m not saying your approach is wrong, but here it only represents a part of the bigger puzzle.

    I met a colleague today and finally pieced all the bits together and i am hoping to blog on this soon once i make sense of my notes and mind map.

    I am looking at creating a framework which identifies the change required, tools available, information protocols etc and some will be principles.

    However i have identified that we need a course for staff who will be doing this to skill them up in “online facilitation / community managers” roles. Staff training is a big area, not for all but for those who we would anticipate being proactive in such spaces

    Also we need to ensure that the organisation supports and trusts staff to act and respond on its behalf in social spaces….this is compared to formal responses via formal feedback routes…how do we manage the perceived overlap, when we need to report on feedback and complaints.

    I don’t want to complicate what i am doing and i am putting in little parts at a time, but have only just started to see the bigger picture clearly enough to be able to articulate soon.

  3. The 7 seem fine to me though I’m not sure that 4 isn’t a subset of 3.

    @carlhaggerty to the extent to which I’ve understood your point, I disagree. But it does sound awfully complicated and unnecessarily so.

  4. I guess, what is happening is that i am a victim of my culture and that is the perspective i am sharing.

    I agree it shouldn’t be complicated, but somehow it is?

    I am essentially trying to create something “a document” which states the following:

    1) what is the role of local gov in social spaces
    2) what opportunities does social and digital media offer around engagement and participation
    3) what barriers, gaps, skills, issues etc stop us moving forward
    4) what we need to do (projects and actions)
    5) what are our guiding principles

    This is how i see principles fitting into a wider framework.

    I want to avoid my council building social spaces and expecting people to turn up…that won’t happen. I’d prefer my council to understand how it can tap into existing communities and benefit from those connections.

  5. Just right Emma, but I’d be inclined to just get stuck in with some basic stuff and build from there.

    Get your Department to understand that this isn’t just moving the broadcast message to someone elses site. Setting up a Facebook group isn’t necessarily the right thing – especially if it’s just an exhibition of wares.

    And don’t leave behind the your colleagues – they’ll help you – they should after all know their audiences, but will be left behind if they don’t see the relevance. Evidence is what gets people on board…so do it and demonstrate the value. Too often I see stuff happening for tick box purposes.

  6. Seems sensible to me. For what it’s worth, here’s a set of principles I’ve used recently in presentations:

    1. Interactive websites need interactive organisations
    2. Focus on the content, not the platform
    3. Find and support the pioneers and champions
    4. Be honest about scope and boundaries
    5. Protect information that needs to be protected
    6. Integrate with other partners and channels
    7. Make it enjoyable and interesting
    8. Enable remixing & co-design: who can help us do this?
    9. Enhance progressively: build from inclusive and accessible base of information
    10. Evaluate intelligently and share openly

  7. Thank you everyone, this has been really useful.

    Carl, this is definitely a part of wider cultural change, but the principles are important to get right I think and work better than a strategy in this case.

    Alex, I wish :) we are up to our eyes in convergence and DG, but this is groundwork – agree with your points.

    Next question: where should the responsibility for this sit? Policy? Strategy? Comms?

  8. Policy? Strategy? Comms?

    That depends on the organisation and what it is there to do, but I am increasingly wondering whether the answer is ‘none of the above’.

    Clearly communication must have something to with comms, but as is clear from your principles (and even more clear from Steph’s), much of this needs to be about much broader and deeper organisational and cultural change, where there is no particular reason to suppose that a comms directorate has any particular traction.

    After that, the choice may depend on core activities. For a Whitehall policy department, perhaps the answer could be policy. For an operational delivery organisation, there’s a strong case for saying that it’s part of the overall approach to service delivery.

    Strategy might be a good answer, particularly if policy and/or operations don’t really have a concentration of expertise and enthusiasm (which assumes of course that strategy does, but then I’m a strategist :-)), but with the drawback that they are likely to be a step further away some of the key groups you are trying to reach.

    In the end, the decision needs to be driven more by the purpose than by the tools, but recognising that the effect of the tools may be to change which bits of organisation and responsibility it makes sense to connect with which other bits.

  9. Whitehall departments being as they are, I received this email from someone within the department where I work, with their own set of principles, which are brilliant – and I am going to put them into this discussion. Thoughts welcome:

    – The objectives of digital engagment need to be clear and measurable.
    – The engagement directly supports wider business objectives (e.g. promoting more efficient working through online collaboration, analysing views within a particular demographic)
    – Online engagement is part of an overall engagement strategy (ideally this would involve a thorough audience segmentation exercise to understand which audiences are reached by particular channels, on and offline)
    – The choice of online engagment tools will be determined by the business objectives (i.e. why a forum or a blog or…)
    – Policy or delivery staff have to be directly involved and committed to the engagement – if farmed out as a function to comms the quality of interaction will suffer and discourage public involvement.
    – Wherever possible we will use relatively mature, inexpensive technologies.

    @public strategist, really good points, thank you.

  10. This new list has got some good stuff in it, but it’s just as important to think about what’s not in it, which leaves me with two slight concerns:

    1. There is an implication that they come to us and we define the meeting space
    2. There is an implication that digital engagement is essentially about consultation (and so, by further implication, about policy)

    For engagment where those two implications hold, this list is a good starting point, but that’s only one segment of the wider digital engagement agenda (and is a good example of why I think digital engagement is a particularly unhelpful term).

  11. Something I have found really useful is a piece of work by Involve.org.uk and the National Consumer Council ncc.org.uk – called nine principles of deliberative public engagement:
    1. The process makes a difference
    2. The process is transparent
    3. The process has integrity
    4. The process is tailored to circumstances
    5. The process involves the right number and types of people
    6. The process treats particpants with respect
    7. The process gives priority to participant’s discussions
    8. The process is reviewed and evaluated to improve practice
    9. Particpants are kept informed

  12. I am stealing all of this.

    And Emma, I will ping you some stuff I’ve been working on lately. Not nearly ready enough to share here. But may help.

    I trust you’ve seen Mark O’Neill’s strategy he stuck up on Civil Wiki? It reads like a manifesto / principles style approach like the above stuff. Es ist sehr gut.

  13. Neil, steal away, that’s the point. I have seen Mark’s stuff, it’s great. I have seen LOTS of stuff from across govnt here and the EU, the above was my first stab.

    The department where I work is taking this seriously and has a team of people to enable this from a policy point of view, marketing and comms all on board; but as we work with many and powerful exec agencies, I believe that to start with the principles would be good.

    I also have a superb document from Tiffany St James in COI, building on Ross Fergusson’s work; all of this will become a *dreaded* toolkit.

    Anyway, I think that I have enough from this post to build the principles into something valuable.

    I will repost once I have done a bit more work :)

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  16. Interesting points, and a great discussion from which I will take some really valuable points.

    My tuppence – I think the debate around Whitehall depts between public strategist and Mulq sounds very marketing-esque – speaking as a marketer (hence the ensuing jargon).

    Marketing tries to quantify relationships to the bottom line. At a time when the bottom has fallen out of the market, isn’t it time to think differently? We can’t measure relationships in those ‘traditional’ ways. King Lear tried and went mad.

    I’m a natural rationalist but find myself confused and excited about the current environment. It’s all about that confusing nature of relationships, that can’t be quantified on spreadsheets but have to be gauged on trust and respect, almost gut instinct – concepts that have driven business forward, but have been managerialised out of normal work practices.

    You (we) have to trust people with their opinions, their ability to comment, to influence their surroundings, to control their own data (which isn’t clear from the discussion above). We have to enable everyone to control their relationships. We have to LET GO. We have to PLAY.

    Scary, but true.

    I’d say that’s the proper fight, rather than the retro fit of business rules to people being themselves. It will most likely fall short in that inevitable way of subjugated inclusion. But one battle is won, and it is our job to carry those messages forward (ie don’t even bother if you have to moderate).

    But most important to me at this point – thank you for letting me be part of this conversation.

  17. Welcome Martin :) and thanks, Rob.

    Data is a BIG bugbear of mine, but agree that it is not really evidenced above, except in one of the principles of course. Must redress that without skewing it.

    Accept that success cannot really be measured for this, and it is tricky to align the business/strategic benefits: therefore, as you say, we can’t even find that bottom line. But I do not find myself up against this kind of argument, people just want to know what to do, how and where.

  18. Am popping up for the first time here so hello to all. I am currently working on my PHD around the area of how we find a way to use social media to support local democracy and so found the priniciples useful – thanks.
    I think their are two additional things to consider:

    1) Tone / Authenticity. Don’t go digitally native unless you you actually speak the language. So many local authorities are turning up in social spaces and doing themselves no favours because they don’t respond to the tone of the site.
    2) Make sure you are having the right conversations in the right places. My growing convinction is that government needs to create online civic spaces and draw social conversations to these rather than try and engage out in the wild. I have some EU funding to try and figure out if this is true (www.citizenscape.org) so we shall see!

    One other thing – I think its probably important to think about the fact that online communities are really good at building bonding social capital but do less well at bridging capital. The public sphere of debate needs that bridging capital and this is an opportunity for democratic institutions I think.

  19. I think the biggest challenge for dept.s is getting the right people to put any social media strategy into action.

    It sounds like you’re being asked to come up with a social media ‘how to’, Emma. If so, I think the key issue for you is ‘who’ does this community engagement work.

    It’s great that you have buy in from marketing/policy/comms, but I know from experience that they’ll run fleeing for their blackberries if you suggest that they share the actual day-to-day *work* of community engagement.

    You need to lobby for resource to secure at the least one community manager who will manage the practical day-to-day that comes with engaging citizens/customers online:
    *Setting the tone by constantly creating content and being identifiable/accountable as the community manager of the site/dept
    *Moderation issues – creating clear moderation guidelines, managing moderators, dealing with violations and problem users
    *Regularly updating whichever social media networks are appropriate to the community with exclusive content/services
    *CRM – responding to user communications, personally
    *Constantly creating new reasons for visitors to come back to the community (new features/content/tools)
    *Internal social media cheerleader – Tweet-training, blog editing, etc. etc.

    But the one element that the strategy must contain is that intend to:

    *Do something real with the community’s contributions.

    Unless part of the strategy is what to do with all the helpful suggestions/harsh criticisms/requests for answers that any engagement with real people will bring, then it’s just a tick box exercise…

    It’s brave of depts to be up for this kind of engagement. Am surprised and excited it’s happening!

  20. Catherine, great PHD subject, good luck and keep us posted. Your first point I *hope* is covered by principle 2; on your second point I would be really fascinated to find out what you discover, can you share?

    Libby, really useful links, cheers.

    Lucy, you raise a really valuable point there:

    *Do something real with the community’s contributions.

    Unless part of the strategy is what to do with all the helpful suggestions/harsh criticisms/requests for answers that any engagement with real people will bring, then it’s just a tick box exercise…

    One that we all talk about but I have not included in any of the papers written so far :) I shall include it.

    With regard to your suggestion for a community manager, I could not agree more, but at the moment it is baby steps and we have to start somewhere. I believe the need will become quickly apparent. Have you seen the work Steph Gray is doing in DIUS? He comments above, follow his blog and you will be way more impressed :)

  21. I’m also creating a User generated content strategy for NHS Choices. I’ve gone down the principles road as well but I’m also looking at segmentation e.g. the right medium/techniques for the right audience which is particularly relevant in health.
    And I’m fascinated by the Obama campaign which used digital engagement to create a virtuous circle where people signed up, got sent a call to action, went out and did it (knocked on doors) and then reported back to the site and were given more tasks. Would be happy to share draft strategy.

  22. I’m currently carrying out a requirements gathering exercise to make recommendations for e-consultation ‘software’ on behalf of a UK gov dept.

    My recommendations will be made from the users’ perspective. The parallels between your principals, Steph’s principals and good user experience principals are quite clear.

    There are also some clear parallels between online interaction/consultation/engagement and Grice’s Conversational Maxims, always worth a look at.

    The energy and appetite for digital engagement in government is clearly growing, it’s very exciting.

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