Today, we are always connected, wherever we go.
The internet and technologies that link us to it make it possible to be connected at all times. We’re all aware of it and increasingly we take it for granted. So how is technology changing community engagement, as practised by companies like Indigo?
We’re all aware that social media has become a vital component in the process of communicating and sharing political messages, spurring on any number of campaigns and transforming social movements, from Corbynmania to #MeToo.
Yet in the majority of cases it is important to note that social media is more of a vehicle rather than driver for that change. After all, if a campaign just doesn’t resonate, it doesn’t get followers, no matter how often its architects post online.
So too in community engagement, there can be inherent limitations in the use of social media. Topics shift and change, diffusing debates by scattering the content. The most active voices and the most commonly agreed on points are favoured by the time-centric system that can all too easily skew the balance of the debate.
To alleviate some of these shortcomings, new civic technologies are being developed every day. Civic technologies are tools we use to create, support, or serve public good. Ultimately, what they try to do is enable and manage conversations/forums/discussions online so that well-informed decisions can be reached amongst a diverse sample of people with a stake in the issue.
Civic technologies offer public, third and private sectors alike the chance to get a more comprehensive picture of the community they wish to engage with – whether it be in service planning and delivery, planning exercises or when trying to support community work in the local area.
When embarking on a process of community engagement it is all too easy to let the tail wag the dog, by allowing technology preferences to dictate methodology. However, recommendations from community engagement practitioners have time and time again pointed towards the fact that – yes, technologies could very well enhance and strengthen an engagement process – but before asking ‘how’, we should first answer the questions ‘what’ and ‘why’.
Tools cannot save an engagement plan if it was flawed to begin with, which is why it is important to be aware of context, stakeholders and what you are trying to achieve from the start of the design process. Getting it right the first time is important to make the best use of often limited resources of time and money, but also to make sure that important future relationships with the community don’t get off to a needlessly rocky start.
Having thought about the ‘what’ and ‘why’ you can then move on to the ‘how’. There is an abundance of civic technologies, but here is a flavour of some:
- is can help you reach a wide audience and map the agreements/disagreements on an issue amongst participants.
- Community Remarks is a GIS based technology that enables participants to comment on development plans through a map and it can be combined with Facebook.
- Your Priorities has been applied to a few participatory budgeting processes in Scotland already. The software allows for participants to submit ideas and suggestions, comment and ‘like’ other suggestions and, finally, enables participants to allocate money to the projects within the limits of the existing budget.
Once you have designed a sound process you are ready to launch it – and that’s where social media, civic technologies and PR come into their own to help create a better awareness and understanding of the engagement. After all, it doesn’t matter how well your engagement is designed if no one knows it is there.
Indigo is here to help you to ask and answer these questions as well as to explore your options, ultimately designing a process that fits the context and your goal. We are also here to make sure that people know that they are being engaged with and to ensure that communication between you and the community and stakeholders remain open and constructive during the process.