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The pieces of the digital engagement puzzle

At the FCO, it’s Listen, Pubish, Engage, Evaluate. In the DIUS of Justin Kerr-Stevens, it was Educate, Enable, Engage, Promote.

Now, having learned what I’ve learned over the last 18 months, I’ve twice this week found myself flashing up this slide at a conference to describe the elements of the digital engagement puzzle as I’m thinking of them currently:

Listen, Explain, Engage, Convene

It starts with listening – not just monitoring – but actually getting people aware of and plugged into online conversations. But it’s also about listening in the old-school ways too, through user research and feedback, intelligent use of analytics and comparative data.

It’s about doing more than putting documents out there. As an organisation that’s rich in hundred-page strategy documents, we need to use the medium of the web to communicate better, explaining our key policies and services in accessible and interesting ways, and showing the connections between initiatives. Not necessarily YouTube with everything, but using multimedia where it helps to introduce a topic. Providing layers of background, analysis, data and context, so our audiences (some expert, some casual) can explore the topic in as much detail as they so choose. The trusty hyperlink is the building block here.

We need to look across and beyond our platforms, engaging audiences with our material and our people, taking them out into the places people go online, including magazine sites, blogs, forums and social networks. That takes skills, sensitivity and humility, but can be hugely rewarding.

Perhaps the least familiar item in that list is convening – the position that government has, as an often neutral, influential force aiming for positive social outcomes, to bring people together in the service of common challenges. Where communities don’t already exist, our digital communications can help connect and enable them to collaborate online. But crucially it means not always doing it ourselves online – sometimes the partnerships and the communities we can support are better placed to meet the need efficiently and sustainably themselves.

How does that model compare to your approach?

p.s. No evaluation? That’s not to devalue reflection and analysis: I see it as running through the four elements above, but it doesn’t quite fit the model of how we approach the task as an element in its own right.

19 Comments

  1. the only point missing is that for true digital engagement we need a decent infrastructure in the UK that gives everyone ubiquitous connectivity. Currently this is not the case, and half the country does not have easy access to the internet. Until the glorious day when we get policy makers to realise this we are fighting a losing battle. You can have all the great ideas you like, but they won’t work until the infrastructure can cope. At the moment the copper bottlenecks make online engagement impossible for a great many people.
    chris

  2. The fifth logical step in the delivery cycle is ‘Collaboration’. Once a like minded team has been convened they need to be able to work together to solve the problem. In a growingly connected and technologically complex world, service delivery generally relies on a number of organisations cooperating and, going one step further, collaborating to find the best solution to the problem. It is only through collaboration that we will achieve simplification, de-duplication and cost savings.

  3. @Bill: Collaboration for a long time was my fourth box. But I think, for me, convening expresses the idea better – it’s not just about using a collaborative tool like a wiki or Huddle/Google Docs to write something jointly as a group.

    From the perspective of corporate IT, I can see that getting to the stage of sharing common interfaces and processes is a major achievement with major efficiencies. But from where I sit, and particularly where there are existing online communities, there’s a stage beyond this where people get together and take action helped but not led by government.

    Clearly, that doesn’t apply to every aspect of service delivery. But for policy making and the kind of entrepreneurship, ambition-raising, networking kind of policy objectives my campaigns often need to support, using the tools to get the right people talking and connecting with each other to work out what they can do to deliver the solution is really key.

  4. Collaboration and convening, both the same. Neither will work in a digital world without the connection. Connection is the key to all the boxes.

  5. I can agree with all of these particularly the last one and that is only partly about the technology. What is missing for me is inclusion which means understanding today’s problem. People who are not just disengaged, but also excluded have to see a value for them personally. Wider community benefit can, and will, come later. Solve the problem, then backfill the rest.This seems to be a recuring theme recently and engaging the disengaged is, for me at least, one step removed from including the excluded. I see this as important because the next step is empowering and if we don’t empower everyone we risk deepening exclusion.

  6. I like the way your thinking on this keeps evolving, exactly as it should. Early days, early days.

    Convening implies much more than collaborating.

    And I agree that evaluation is a golden thread through it all. Tied to that, it’s worth noting the important activity of selecting: choosing when, where and how to engage – which opportunities are going to make a difference and which could be a less worthwhile use of time. This probably comes somewhere between listening and the other three? Listening internally, as well as externally?

  7. I find this interesting and very much along the lines of an engagement model I was working on while at Directgov. To me, listening had both a passive (in the way you describe it) element, and an active one – where the listening you do actually found its way back into the thinking – and actions taken by – the department/organisations you work for.

    I’m not so fussed about ‘Convening’ but I will say that much of the actual convening I’ve seen where Government is an active participant often involves the same faces, something I used to call the ‘donut of interested Citizens’ that sits around Government. I think to the uninitiated this can often be a very daunting circle of people to break into.

    It is this circle that I think sometimes needs to broken apart allowing for other ideas and opinions to enter into the mix – and of course that is the challenge of this last bit – how do you create or enable that engagement to occur? I think it happens best at a local and hyperlocal level.

    As for the mention of inclusion – implicit in Cyberdoyles comments about getting better access – I think there is an often overlooked second part to that: Once you get people access and online, how do you get them to participate and engage? Which comes back to the issues I’ve mentioned above.

    Having recently attended the GLA #londondata event, I suggested that they not only hold sessions with developers who are interested in open data sets, but also the people who hold the data in GLA and Citizens on the street – after all, it’s one thing to release data, but in my mind no one has yet adequately answered the question of what do Citizens really want out of it?

    It’s an interesting model you have. It’s something I continue to work on and evolve from outside of Government.

  8. I used nearly an identical slide near the start of a training session last week for an arms length government body.

    1.)Listening
    2.)Engagement
    3.)Creating Content (same as explaining, except I included blogging here – just for a practical point of view for that audience – it bridges the two.)
    4.)Collaboration (I would agree the word convening has its charms)

    I present this as a hierarchy (although ideally it shouldn’t be) with the order dependent on the organisation.

    Apart from listening, that has to come first, it can be helpful to swap, emphasise or rename elements to match existing understanding, their own skills, expectations and operational restrictions and objectives.

    It all comes down to horses for courses but semantics aside I agree on the approach.

  9. Thanks for the link, and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. Perhaps we should gauge the value of any initiative or policy by the amount of time that’s built in for reflection and learning.

    If I were to play the Important Verbs game, I might choose Think, Question, Decide, Do. Not that all the connection and engagement and listening and enabling and all the rest aren’t important. But we need to employ critical skills, weigh things up, and then act. Basic, I know, but we seem to see a lot of critique without action, and action without critique.

    This comment was originally posted on Neighbourhoods

  10. Thanks Leo – regret I don’t as yet use Twitter. There is a gentle intended irony to the last sentence of my post, which I’m sure you will have registered.
    Julian – thanks, good points as always, I should have said that the JFDI principle (‘Just * Do It’) is always valid in its place. I think what we’re both concerned about is the unconsidered abandonment of things/ideas that at one time were assumed to have value. In social policy, this can lead to what used to be called ‘community-hopes-raised-and-dashed syndrome’. The unreflective readiness to abandon stuff is made visible in our landfill sites (perhaps not visibly enough), but it also applies to values and principles. In that respect, among my short list of eroded loyalties I might have mentioned political parties.

    This comment was originally posted on Neighbourhoods

  11. I wonder if there is anything in the fact that the models all seem to reflect engagement as a third stage activity – could there be any value in engaging, perhaps in a pilot stage, early on?

  12. Interesting and starting to restore my faith in EGov… It is cool that people like you are doing this sorta stuff, especially outside work! I would always add KISS to any list. But I am not an expert so can’t offer any real input, apart from good wishes and
    Good luck.

    This comment was originally posted on Mission Creep | Neil Williams

  13. The successful application of all of these rules will depend largely upon how much your application/framework/CMS helps and guides the user through the process of creating and maintaining a document (page).

    More and more tools are surfacing to help with this. You mention readability, but that is something which can be crudely measured ( Google: Flesch–Kincaid ) scored, and fed back to users.

    Correct eGMS markup can be divined from the document content and suggested to users.

    The process of ACL ( access control ) can be better fine tuned so that gatekeepers’ tasks are less onerous.

    “User G has submitted another article, you have approved 90% of his past articles so unless you say otherwise this article will be automatically waived through and published in 59 minutes ..”

    Listing and prioritising individual items which make up a good document is one thing, policing it is another.

    Good software should be helping and guiding users to to achieve this, I’d turn my attention to finding that software if I were you.

    This comment was originally posted on Mission Creep | Neil Williams

  14. Paul – I would love to get my hands on a workflow system that learns from previous user actions and a decent metadata suggestion tool. Do you know any products that can handle that kind of thing? I’ve never seen anything that comes close to being this whizzy, but maybe I just don’t know where to look.

    Cyberdoyle – thanks, we are trying! Sharing stuff publicly helps.

    This comment was originally posted on Mission Creep | Neil Williams

  15. There is nothing out there that I have seen that deals with these issues.

    I ran my own CMS for a local gov outfit for 10 years, and had built in much of this type of usability – and had demo’d proof of concepts for other stuff besides.

    All of this is possible _if_ you are designing the CMS for a vertical market.

    The big vendors operate in horizontal markets – at a fundamental (framework) level the CMS will also have to be reused as base for a shoe-shop, and a dog charity, song vendor etc etc with different skins.

    I don’t believe the UK gov meta data space has moved on too much, its still IPSV based AFAICT, as long as you START WITH meta data, and build your CMS on/around it, all the GUI (UX) implementations are trivial by comparison.

    Rarer that rocking horse dung to find an employer/client who’ll buy into that POV though.

    This comment was originally posted on Mission Creep | Neil Williams

  16. Auto publication of content based on track record is perhaps a romantic rather than practical concept — humans ain’t that consistant.

    That said, it’s easy to achieve this in say WWF (MS) using simple rules. This would amount to measuring achievements of past acceptability rather than *learning*. Sadly, I don’t think user G will fly.

    Good work though, your document makes for a good check list for most organisations managing large quantities of communications and addressing many audiences.

    Also enjoyed Steph Gray’s proposal that .gov could one day be a collection of blogs. Money saved, relevance maxed!

    This comment was originally posted on Mission Creep | Neil Williams

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