Three Lessons from West Vancouver’s Success in Online Engagement

April 26, 2015 – OpenGov


We’re proud to say we’ve been helping West Vancouver boost its civic engagement efforts since 2013 with the online platform, westvancouverITE. Our collaboration was recently profiled in “Public Sector Digest.” The case study highlights their success, and offers a few lessons the rest of us can benefit from:

Controversy is not always a bad thing. The first topic West Vancouver launched was about a proposed development, and as you might imagine, emotions were running high. It may seem counterintuitive to pick a controversial topic—however, consider a few key points before you shy away.

In West Vancouver, for example, traditional face-to-face meetings had gotten heated. Does that scenario sound familiar? That hostile environment can alienate moderate voices. In West Vancouver, the online platform proved to be a place more people felt comfortable sharing their honest opinion. Approaching controversy thoughtfully can actually provide an opportunity to tap into a critical issue and build consensus.

Protecting people’s privacy can encourage participation. In this Information Age, none are as dreaded as the infamous “Anonymous” commenters. We’ve all read their nasty snipes on blogs and news sites. They’re never constructive and they’re not tolerated on any Open Town Hall forum.

What is allowed, however, is our “Name Not Shown” option. That’s different than “Anonymous” because these people are still required to register so we can monitor their use.

In West Vancouver, every topic has included this option and so far, 2,800 residents have visited at least one topic, which represents about 7 percent of their population. Agencies tend to see almost double the participation rate when they offer this option.

Transparency fosters trust. Our Open Town Hall creates a communal log of comments that anyone can access at any time. This goes a long way to build trust because it evens the playing field. City staff is reading the same input as any resident, or any member of the media.

Being on the same page is especially critical when decision time rolls around. While a member of the public may not agree with the final decision, at least they can understand how that decision was formed—and that builds trust, which is at the foundation of all good governance.

Category: Civic Engagement