Over the past 3 years, we’ve been delivering training to government and private sector companies on how to engage communities and stakeholders through digital and online tools.

Using live polling and yes, even butcher’s paper, we’ve tallied the most common fears and obstacles for running online or digital engagement.

Here’s what we’ve heard:

  • Cost – “It’s going to cost us more.” “We just got a quote for $20,000 to build a platform and then we still need to do a lot of the work.”
  • Resources – “We don’t have the people power”
  • Culture – “Our project managers don’t get it. They’ve only just come around to community engagement, and online engagement is pushing them too far.”
  • Fear – “They’re scared of what people will say and how to respond.”
  • Approvals – “It takes months just to get an approval on a newsletter. There’s no way we’ll be able to get approval to respond on social media.”
  • Processes – “We’d have to reinvent what we do and how.”
  • Content creation – “We’d need to produce a whole lot of new collateral to suit the mediums.”
  • Knowledge – “Our project team doesn’t know how to do it. We need training. They need training.”

There are many answers to the obstacles. But simply put, you don’t need to do everything, and you don’t need to do it all now.

Sometimes online and digital engagement is great. Sometimes it gets in the way of deep conversations and relationship building.

Here’s how it’s currently being used:

  • Online Interactive Games – to gather information about how people use energy and water to educate the community and to understand the trigger points for change
  • Augmented Reality Tours – street tours and walking tours overlaying future images or videos from project or community leaders
  • Virtual Reality Apps – apps where you can be immersed in the future of what is being proposed. Imagine standing in a 360 degree world with birds flying overhead depicting a future life.
  • Avatars – rather than a boring survey that tells you everything and gives nothing back to the participant, some organisations are building surveys that produce a participant avatar (character that describes who they are or what they believe). Avatars are being used for internal staff engagement and community visioning exercises
  • Interactive Images – rather than a static image, clients are creating interactive images or maps that you can click on and get access to a video, facts, link to another URL, or contact us form
  • Live Polling – poll a group at engagement events where the results show in real time and can be discussed afterwards. It’s being used in everything from waste industry forums, to housing policy forums, and deliberative forums.
  • Online Discussion Forums – some organisations are using purpose-built platforms, and others are building their own, especially where they engage with communities over the long term.
  • Collaborative Mapping – where the community can pin issues, opportunities or great ideas onto online map of a place. It’s being used for transport routes, planning schemes, environmental planning and more
  • Wikis – the ultimate in open and transparent online deliberative discussions, wikis are like Wikipedia but are created for specific engagement projects and they’re being used particularly in policy engagement
  • Many other ways including crowdsourcing of volunteers and technical solutions, mobile app creation for anything, online policy hacks, polling, creating photo montages for the future, live twitter chats and more.

If none of this, or even some of this, didn’t make sense, then look out for our next public IAP2 online and digital engagement course, or contact us for an in-house session.

The IAP2 Australasia Certificate of Engagement: http://goo.gl/fGAW11

The IAP2 Australasia Advanced Certificate of Engagement: http://goo.gl/lxJ2XQ

Online Engagement Training: http://goo.gl/OlX6Cp