What are the Benefits of Online Civic Engagement Platforms?
If you have a personal Facebook, Nextdoor, or Twitter account, there’s a good chance you’ve witnessed civic participation in real time. Posts and comments by your neighbors about city plans or needs in your community stir up dialogue and debate (constructive or otherwise). Governments and other public entities are harnessing the convenience, accessibility, and popularity of online civic engagement platforms to drive dialogue and inform decision making processes. Let’s explore the ways in which agencies and community members can both benefit from this software.
Popular Community Engagement Platforms and Software Besides Facebook, Nextdoor, and Twitter
Besides Facebook, Nextdoor, and Twitter, there are several other online civic engagement platforms that complement offline community engagement methods. Civic engagement software encourages more people to become active citizens. We are one of six popular community engagement platforms that are driving change:
- Bang the Table
By combining traditional, in-person meetings with civic engagement software, public agencies cast a wider net to capture more people who are willing to provide feedback. With the ability to contribute to the democratic process from the comfort of home, more members of the community can share their thoughts and ideas, including elderly and disabled citizens with mobility barriers. This process goes both ways. Online civic engagement platforms also publish civic data, such as laws and legislation, and disseminate information.
How Data from Citizen Engagement Platforms Can be Utilized
Because two-way communication streams help governments collect and share information with the public, these online platforms house a lot of data. Here are some ways that data is often used:
Data can be used to combat noise. Flippant and untrue statements create false narratives. Data on demand makes it easy for visitors to find facts, challenge misconceptions, and understand the numbers behind the news.
Data can support narratives about why a plan or initiative is important: Data without context is useless, so localities and agencies can create data portal landing pages with images, maps, and narratives to frame proposals. If, for example, there’s a tax measure coming up and the city needs support on it, they can share the facts behind it and why it’s important. If citizens wish to dig into the numbers, it’s all there for them to do so.
Opinions and feedback offer sets of data that can be critical to the decision making process. Governments can use multiple channels to garner valuable insights shared by community stakeholders. One tool is by survey—people can see an issue, vote on it, and follow what the government chooses to do (oversee the lifecycle of a particular issue).
Data across public entities can dissolve silos. Because each online citizen engagement platform facilitates transparency, governments are able to compare their systems to others and learn new strategies and solutions.
Filtering by demographics (age, gender, location) shows who is being heard, and perhaps more importantly, who isn’t. Knowledge of who is interacting is one of the keys to the success of these platforms. Discovering an absence of feedback from certain segments of the population can help identify voices that need to be heard.
The Importance of Online Conversations in Public Engagement
A town hall meeting that gives officials the opportunity to hear from their constituents and vice versa can be productive, but they can also be very limiting. Such meetings can also leave many people out—citizens who are unable to attend, as well as those that are disinterested or disillusioned. On the other hand, supplementing public hearings with online forums, surveys, and virtual podiums is convenient and makes participation accessible to more residents. Civic engagement software engages people in dialogue and encourages a constructive exchange of ideas that can be transformational.
People who may not attend a city council meeting may log on to an online portal to be active in the government. When given opinions from the majority, public entities can be held more accountable in their decisions.
How Conversation Leads to Change in Local Government
Governments that don’t listen to their citizens at the beginning of the decision-making process often incur more costs later on down the line. Often, the best approach is to proactively communicate with the public. Citizens tend to only know the details of a regulation or decision when it goes sour. Getting ahead of negative comments by taking in feedback from the start can prevent wasted time and resources later on.
Online civic engagement software allows governments to respond thoughtfully to citizens’ concerns and ideas, and also to combat noise on social media that is not reflective of the truth. It can also give community members the opportunity to talk to each other and engage in thoughtful discourse.
Online Civic Engagement has Never been Easier for Governments and Citizens
Civic engagement software reduces or eliminates barriers between decision makers and stakeholders while allowing governments to better align their goals with their community’s needs. In our experience, citizen engagement tools that are all-in-one (tying together virtual town halls, landing pages, and other methods of transparency) provide the most streamlined and comprehensive approach to civic engagement. By engaging with citizens online, you can reduce inflammatory comments, gather valuable data from more people, easily incorporate and analyze results, and get a better understanding of responses.