The first thing we do in a civic engagement project is designing the process. Technology allows you plenty of flexibility, but it is the process you design that matters. Effective process helps you find what works and deliver change faster.
Strategic projects often include several phases. Before launch, we recommend that you outline these phases, starting from the more personal meeting with high-level decision-makers and ending with the broad outreach to employees or partners.
The project outline document defines four key aspects: What to ask, who to ask, how to ask, and when to ask.
The Issues to Address
Before we start a civic engagement project, there are four issues to address:
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW. The question should include the outcome and trigger people to think about what it takes to fulfill it. What would you define as success? What do you want? What do you actually need to decide on?
WHO KNOWS. The groups we ask should have a diverse, decentralized and independent approach. Who will be affected by your decisions? Who holds the power to delay or help you? Who knows, studies or has experience in the field?
HOW TO APPROACH. The channels we engage through should make it beneficial for groups to participate. What channel can be used to reach the groups? What is the fastest way for a group to answer? What engagements are already planned?
WHEN TO APPROACH. The timing should make the issue as relevant as possible to the groups you ask. Who should get an invite? What planned events should you integrate to? What are the external deadlines you have?
Tips for Good Process Design
From our own experience, here are some tips on process design:
Start internally. Your managers & employees can help, and they want to know the plan early. Before you reach out to thousands of people, gather a small meeting (5-10 people) with key executives and/or a roundtable (20-40 people) with key stakeholders.
Design core stages to keep everyone informed. Each stage should cover a different group of people, until you reach your entire target audience.
Those who have formal authority should be approached and informed first about the entire project outline. Arrange a closed meeting and share with them the ownership of the entire project.
Different groups require different engagement channels. Facebook is a great channel to engage clients or citizens, but not senior executives. Board members would probably (and rightly) expect a phone call.
Our Delivery Unit at Insights.US specializes in planning and delivering complex projects. We invite you to think collaboratively with us regarding your challenge and the best way to tackle it. Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creating Wisdom of Crowds
American business journalist James Surowiecki emphasized the need to synthesize different worlds of content and levels of seniority to achieve collective opinion, because "the many are smarter than the few."
Our experience shows that different perceptions and ideas create powerful insights:
Here are Surowiecki's four conditions for harnessing the wisdom of crowds (The Wisdom of Crowds, 2004):
Decentralization requires the knowledge of people from different seniority levels (senior managers, junior managers, and other employees)
Diversity requires the knowledge of people from different professions and departments (customer managers, IT professionals, and clients).
Independence requires that knowledge to be shared before people are exposed to the ideas and advice of their peers.
Aggregation requires the synthesis of all advice into bottom-line insights (similar to pricing in markets and voting in elections).
Managing stages of a consultation
Each project has several stages, which indicate what participants can see and do:
Can members enter the project?
Can members add answers?
Can members perform tasks?
Can members see insights?
Can members see decisions?
DRAFT: In draft, you can define your question, add background text, and upload images. Only admins can see the project.
ASK: After you launch the project, participants can add answers, share their advice and perform simple, analytical tasks.
ANALYZE: Once you close the project, new answers will not be accepted and participants will be asked to do analytical tasks.
DECIDE: This is the time to address the insights and make decisions. Nobody can see your decisions before you share them.
COMPLETE: When you publish your decisions, the project is completed. It will remain available online for participants to see.
ARCHIVED: Archived projects are available online only for people with a direct link. If the project is private, they will need to login.
DELETED: Deleted projects are not visible to anyone. Stakeholders will get an error message if they try to get in.