1. Plan your online engagement
1.1 Develop your engagement strategy
Confirm your mandate and define your engagement objectives, success metrics, and risks and issues. You should also determine the project resourcing. Then you can identify your stakeholders and their needs, and design your high-level engagement approach.
To start developing your strategy you will need to:
- confirm your mandate
- define your engagement objectives
- define your metrics of success
- determine project resourcing
- determine your budget for engagement
- determine your timeline for engagement
- prepare to manage risks and issues.
Confirm your mandate
Your mandate is an official authority, or commission, to carry out your engagement in line with your policy and the approach outlined in your strategy. Your executive needs to give this authority.
Respectful engagement has purpose. When we invite someone to engage with us, we are asking them to invest their time to participate in our process and give their attention to the information we share. We are also investing our time and resources so we can give them our attention. It is reasonable for our stakeholders to expect a clear explanation of why we are engaging, what kind of participation we expect and what they can expect from us.
Confirming your mandate for online engagement is critical for respectful engagement.
A clear mandate should convey your engagement’s:
- purpose and approach
- policies and procedures that you will apply when engaging
- intent on how you will use your stakeholder’s input.
Articulating a clear mandate will help:
- manage reputational risks, participant expectations and stakeholder relations
- improve your user experience
- in the delivery of your objectives.
The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) refers to the mandate as a 'promise to the public'. The promise to the public tells how government will use the public's input in the decision making process. IAP2 developed the Public Participation Spectrum to show how the purpose of engagement and the level of public participation relate to a promise to the public.
We recommend using the spectrum to confirm your mandate for engagement with others in your organisation.
Define your purpose for engaging
The IAP2 Spectrum defines five reasons why you may want to engage, to either:
Each reason invites varying degrees of participation, input and level of engagement. Where you are in the process, and who you are engaging with, will influence your reason to engage. For example, you may:
- engage to inform or involve certain stakeholders in your process before consulting
- collaborate with stakeholders to deliver outcomes after a consultation has closed.
Openly engaging early and continuously, and being transparent about the process can:
- inform policy development and planning
- help you tailor policy, programmes and services to meet user needs
- improve the effectiveness of consultation and service delivery
- enhance communications
- identify stakeholders and scope potential social, environmental and economic issues
- build trust in Government
- raise awareness about challenges
- provide useful inputs into options
- gain insights into community values and priorities
- enable agencies to track and manage issues
- build relationships and deliver better public services
- increase the effectiveness and acceptance of proposed changes.
An ‘engagement policy’ is the standard you apply when engaging. It defines the principles and rules of engagement for you and your stakeholders. It also provides a basis for your engagement strategy and ensures your project mandate and engagement principles are endorsed and implemented.
While developing this guide, we engaged our community of practice to help define a set of principles for online engagement. These principles align with the Kia Tūtahi relationship accord. Together they are a great place to start when defining your mandate and subsequent policies and procedures for engagement.
Your engagement policy should cover:
- accordance with the online engagement principles and the Open Government Partnership Declaration, such as inclusion, transparency and accountability
Principles of online engagement
Open Government Partnership
- stakeholder definition, approach to include them and why
- types of engagement techniques you will use, including how you will gather input
- how you will use tools like social media and discussion forums to engage
- your moderation approach
- how privacy requirements will be applied to information collected
- how information will be collected, collated, managed, analysed and published, including assessing if it can be released as anonymised, aggregated ‘high value public data’ under the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government
Declaration on Open and Transparent Government
- a response policy including:
- how and when you will respond to enquiries, questions and issues
- what reporting internally and publicly will be provided.
We recommend each agency develop its own overall policy for engagement which can be tailored to fit with the mandate of specific engagement projects.
Agency engagement policies can be published to:
- show a commitment to transparency, increase trust and encourage constructive participation
- help stakeholders understand the terms of their engagement
- manage stakeholder expectations.
Example of a transparent engagement policy:
NZ Transport Agency's public engagement guideline
Define your engagement objectives
Engagement objectives are statements that define why you are engaging and what you hope to get out of the process. They will also help you decide who to engage and the best way to engage with them.
Try and make your objectives SMART:
- Specific – target a specific area for improvement, explain why you are engaging
- Measurable – quantify what you hope to get out of the process
- Assignable – specify who will do it
- Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved within given constraints (such as available resources, expertise, time, budget)
- Time-related – specify when the results can be achieved.
Your objectives should reflect:
- your engagement purpose and policy
- the type and degree of engagement you’re hoping to achieve at each phase.
Define your engagement objectives, outputs and deliverables early so that people will understand:
- what is expected of them
- how engagement will contribute to the successful delivery of the project.
Then you will know:
- what is practical and achievable within the budget and resources you have
- the skills and methods needed.
To define your objectives, it may help to answer the following questions:
- How does this engagement fit with your legislative context?
- How does this engagement fit into your organisation's objectives and its relationships with these stakeholders?
- How does engagement support or fit with Government objectives more generally for example:
- Does it align with the Better Public Services objectives?
- Is it customer- or citizen-centric enough?
- Does it help meet the Open Government Partnership principles of transparency, accountability and civic participation?
- Are you using or reusing Open Data (under the Declaration on Open and Transparent Government)? Should you?
Declaration on Open and Transparent Government
- At what stage of your process will a decision be made?
- Who is making it – and how will they consider information gathered through engagement?
- What is on the table for discussion? What is open for negotiation? What is non-negotiable?
- At what point in the process will you let stakeholders know a decision has been made, and report back to them how their input has been used?
- Do your stakeholders have to make decisions too?
Project stages – phases of engagement
- How will engagement support the delivery of project milestones?
- Will all stakeholders be engaged at all stages of the project?
Degrees of engagement
- How will different levels and engagement methods support the delivery of project milestones?
- Will all stakeholders be engaged at all stages of the project?
Consultation or engagement – building relations and communities
- Are you gathering feedback on a proposal or input into a draft?
- Will you continue engaging with stakeholders after the consultation? Why? How?
- What kind of relationship do you want to have with the stakeholders you are engaging long term?
- Will you continue to manage the page, group, website and the relationships or community created? How?
Type of engagement – participation, representation, deliberation
- Will your engagement be open (public) or closed (by invitation only)?
- Do you want a large number of citizens to participate or are you hoping to engage a representative sample of the population? Are you sure you don’t need both?
- How will you reach the stakeholders who are most affected?
- Do you want to encourage participants to read content or others' comments before sharing their thoughts? How will you encourage informed feedback?
- Will you value input from different stakeholders differently?
- What are your questions for engagement?
- What do you need your stakeholders to understand before they respond to these questions? How will you tell this story?
- Are you engaging to understand and measure potential impacts?
It can be helpful when developing objectives to define success and work backwards. What would success look like? For example, are you hoping to achieve a high degree of participation or reach a representative sample of the population? Is the quality of inputs more important than quantity?
Developing clear metrics for success at the start of a project:
- ensures focus for your engagement approach
- helps with managing expectations
- enables measurement so resources can be redistributed as needed to ensure effectiveness.
Your metrics should be reported against your objectives as measures of success.
The following metrics are a good starting point to track and improve effectiveness of your online engagement:
- Visitors to your channels:
- Reach – new and repeat
- Who are they – can you find out the demographics?
- Where did they come from? Both by geography and referral (what website they came from)
- How long did they stay on your page?
- Rates of conversion – what proportion of them did what you wanted them to do?
- How did people participate – did they view content? Comment? View others' comments? Up or down vote others' comments?
- Was content shared?
- Quality of feedback gathered. What kind of feedback are you getting? Is it useful/relevant? Does it demonstrate awareness? Does up or down voting give enough of an indication of what the majority of people think?
- Quantity of input gathered. How much input? All new stakeholders/users or are they expected participants?
- The user journey:
- Is it working? Are users engaging the way you hoped? For example, are they reading content? Are they participating where/how you need them to?
- Are you on track in your process?
We also recommend reviewing the metrics section in the US Government's Public Participation Playbook when setting your metrics for success.
Determine project resourcing
The resources you need to help deliver your approach will be defined by:
- your engagement strategy, particularly the methods you will use and the associated skills needed to deliver your approach
- the rate of participation in online engagement by the public.
The number of resources you will need depends on the size and profile of the project. At a minimum you will need a Senior Responsible Officer and a Project Manager. Each person in the project team can take on multiple roles if they have the right skills.
Senior Responsible Officer (SRO)
- Champions and governs the project.
- Provides sign-off/endorsement of key project deliverables, such as mandate, policy, strategy, issues and risk management plan and reports.
- Supports the Project Manager to deliver the project.
- Manages the project team, budget and timeline.
- Reports project progress to the SRO.
- Ensures the SRO understands the strategy, response policy and how risks and issues will be managed.
- Discusses and accounts for scalable resources and defines triggers for when they might be needed with the team.
- Advises the Project Manager if procedures can be improved and if they think they may need support
- Works to cultivate community and moderate forums around the clock.
- Delivers multiple offline engagement events.
The following are key roles in the project team.
Engagement Lead or Online Community Manager
- Holds the project team to a principles-based approach to engagement.
- Drafts the engagement mandate, strategy, policy, etc.
- Selects the methods and tools for engagement, through discussion with the project team and other agency groups including:
- Information Communications Technology
- Information and Records Management
- Democracy teams (if you are in local government).
- Depending on the project, approves content.
- Facilitates online response, such as discussion forums.
- Responsible for promotion, social media planning and response.
Subject Matter Expert (SME)
- Provides knowledge of key stakeholders and history of related initiatives and issues.
- Writes draft content for online engagement.
- Analyses submissions and drafts reports.
- Reshapes draft content from SME for online consumption.
- Provides reports on online participation analytics.
- Establishes your online platforms.
- Ensures the smooth running of the online platforms.
Determine your budget for engagement
If you need to engage with more than a few people then you will need to allocate a budget for communication, engagement and promotion. You may even need to hire additional resources to cover the roles or skills you don’t have ready access to. Check with your agency’s financial rules to work out which costs are Capital or Operational expenditure.
Your online engagement budget may need to cover things like:
- marketing – online and offline
- engagement strategy development
- social media strategy development and/or resourcing
- content development
- legal advice
- requirements gathering
- selection and configuration of tools
- online engagement tool procurement/development and security accreditation
- technical service provision, such as website development and system integration, and ongoing technical support.
Determine your timeline for engagement
Your online engagement will take a minimum of 9 weeks depending on your organisation’s processes for technology selection, procurement and establishment, and depending on how many stakeholder submissions you need to analyse.
Allow a minimum of:
- 3 weeks (ideally 4) to develop your strategy and approach, gather requirements, select and configure tools
- 4 weeks for stakeholder engagement – this needs to be sufficiently long enough so people can be notified and give considered responses
- 2 weeks for analysis, reporting and closing the feedback loop.
Having a clear mandate and strategy will help mitigate risks. To help manage those risks, you should develop an Issue and Risk Management Procedure (IRMP) for engagement. Some risks are predictable.
An IRMP should:
- map potential scenarios
- outline responses to foreseeable issues.
And will include clear processes to:
- monitor online channels, communities and content shared
- alert key staff of any issues or opportunities
- agree an approach to respond as soon as practical.
Before the engagement starts, you must provide channel and online community managers with:
- guidance on how to handle a social media mishap
- an agreed response policy
- key messages
- reference material.
To ensure consistent response and support ongoing engagement you should:
- use a risk register to track unforeseen issues
- evaluate and manage risk in real-time using agreed processes
- add responses to new issues raised to your published content where appropriate.
Some risks are predictable and you can prepare for them, while others will need an informed reaction. Draft content can be prepared to help with responses to potential questions and issues.
1.2 Identify your stakeholders and their needs
A stakeholder is someone who has an interest in, or will be impacted or affected by a proposed change. This includes the whole range of people from impacted individuals, communities and groups, to knowledgeable experts, implementers and those who will be held ultimately responsible, such as chief executives and ministers.
To identify your stakeholders and their needs you will need to:
- conduct a stakeholder analysis
- determine if your stakeholders have been engaged before
- create a profile of your target community
- consider the social, technical, economic and political context
- conduct research to understand stakeholder issues and needs
- consider how you are going to reach stakeholders online and offline
- conduct a stakeholder analysis.
Stakeholder analysis involves identifying and defining types of stakeholders, mapping their interests and determining the best stakeholder engagement strategy to use.
Stakeholder analysis helps to identify:
- an overall picture of who is involved and how
- the interests of stakeholders in relation to the project’s objectives
- which stakeholders will be directly affected by the engagement outcome
- which stakeholders could directly affect the engagement outcome
- any potential conflicts of interest
- the needs of your target community and stakeholders
- the context you are engaging in
- how best to reach and engage with your stakeholders.
It is especially useful if your objective is to reach a targeted network of stakeholders and invite them to participate in your engagement.
Key questions to answer for each stakeholder:
- What is their interest, and how will they be impacted and how much?
- What is the benefit to the project of their engagement?
- What is the benefit to the stakeholder of their engagement?
- What is their level of influence over the project outcomes?
- What is their level of influence over other stakeholders’ views?
- What is their history of engagement?
- What do you think is their likely level of support for the project objectives?
- What do you need from them?
- What do they need from you?
- What is the risk of engaging or not engaging with them?
- How can you lower the barriers to their engagement?
- Who else has recently or is currently engaging with them and how might this impact their engagement with you?
You can then use the interest/impact, benefits, influence, and risks for each stakeholder to help you determine how best to manage your engagement with them.
You should also consider how your engagement approach needs to change over time for each stakeholder as they become more or less engaged.
Determine if your stakeholders have been engaged before
We recommend talking to others who may have engaged with your stakeholder in the past.
Do this to:
- understand the history and status of your organisation's relationship with the stakeholder
- understand their interests and issues that have gone unresolved
- demonstrate that your agency has been listening
- ensure you are aware of unresolved issues
- reduce risk, build trust and increase the likelihood of an effective engagement.
You should maintain records of your contact and communications with stakeholders to:
- make it easier for others engaging stakeholders on behalf of your agency in the future
- ensure corporate knowledge is retained
- ensure issues are addressed
- retain the value of investment made by you and your stakeholders.
A stakeholder management system will help you maintain such records.
Create a profile of your target community
Community profiling can give more context to your stakeholder analysis. It will provide a demographic snapshot of the geographic area of the project. You can profile the community using census data.
If you are engaging openly but trying to reach a representative sample of the population you can use your profiles to determine whether the people who have engaged represent the community. You can then adapt your approach to ensure you reach those who have not yet participated.
Consider the social, technical, economic and political context
When you are engaging your stakeholders, it’s important to consider the social, technical, economic and political (STEP) context. STEP is a concept developed by the World Bank citizen engagement team.
You should consider questions such as:
- Are there any social and economic issues you should be aware of?
- Do you need to take into account literacy, language or cultural considerations?
- Is there any political sensitivity around the topic you are discussing?
- How technical are your stakeholders?
- Will they be able to access the internet and online tools for engagement?
- How can you help them engage?
The 2006 Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey found that 44% of employed New Zealanders had low levels of literacy (measured as level 1 or 2). If you are engaging in areas with low levels of literacy and diverse languages and cultures, consider speaking to local educational institutions, and community and cultural groups about the best ways to communicate, reach and engage individuals and social networks in that community.
Conduct research to understand stakeholder issues and needs
Be aware that not all engagement will be through channels that you control. Stakeholders will have their own channels and will engage on the topic independently of your engagement activity. It pays to actively listen to what is being said about your topic before, during and after your engagement project.
'Listening online' is the use of specialist tools to monitor and report on data. You can listen online at any point in time with a review of hashtags, keywords and locations. The configuration of specialist monitoring and reporting tools will help you monitor and report on the huge volumes of data online that will be available.
Using the right tools to monitor and analyse ‘big data’, you’ll get a deeper appreciation of local and regional issues and needs. You will also gain more insight about how to tailor communication, programmes and services for your community and specific stakeholder groups.
Consider how you are going to reach stakeholders online and offline
Online and offline social and professional networks enable us to find others with common interests, so we can share ideas and information. Mapping these relationships and content online will help you identify creative ways to reach your stakeholders and earn trust and referral. It can also help you understand social influence, political context and potential risks.
1.3 Design your online engagement approach
Your engagement approach is a high-level description of how you will engage. It describes how you will use various communication and engagement methods to reach your objectives. It’s about designing the engagement journey you will take your stakeholders on and how as a team you will manage the process.
To design your online engagement approach you will need to:
- consider the engagement project phases
- consider the stakeholders’ journey
- determine the type of engagement
- consider the implications of formal, informal and social input
- determine the level and methods of participation
- clarify if you will collect quantitative or qualitative data
- consider how you will integrate online and offline engagement methods.
Consider the engagement project phases
A typical consultation project will have at least four engagement phases:
- Planning the project
Developing a mandate, policy and strategy for engagement, identifying stakeholders and preparing to promote activities and recruit participants.
- Launching the project
Raising awareness, promoting engagement opportunities, recruiting participants.
Collecting input, monitoring participation, refining recruitment and implementing systems for ongoing communications and project promotion.
- Close engagement
‘Close the loop’ by providing a summary of feedback received and project outcomes
Each phase often has its own objectives and requires different engagement methods or degrees of engagement to achieve them. You may engage some stakeholders differently depending on the phase and objectives of your engagement. For example, you may work closely through the launch, engagement and close phases of an engagement process with a stakeholder who is affected by a proposed change to minimise impacts.
We recommend developing a process diagram to help explain the different phases of engagement, and how you would like your stakeholders to engage throughout your project.
Consider the stakeholders' journey
The user journey refers to the process you would like your user or stakeholders to go through when engaging them online or offline.
In engagement the user journey can be thought of as how you will:
- recruit your stakeholders and get them involved
- direct them on what to do
- keep them engaged or close the loop.
This diagram shows an example of engagement as a user journey. It has 3 steps shown as a triangle with connections between each. The 3 steps are:
- Recruit: which is connected to Consult by the words drive traffic
- Consult: which is connected to Engage by the words collect input
- Engage: which is connected to Recruit by the words closing the loop.
Mapping your stakeholder’s user journey can help:
- further define objectives
- select the appropriate methods for engagement
- select the best approach to manage stakeholder relations
- track the progress and success of your engagement by defining them as a metric
- ensure online and offline stakeholder engagement methods are integrated if you include both in your user journeys.
Determine the type of engagement
There are 3 types of engagement to consider:
- Participation – is an open type of engagement process where anyone can view or participate in the engagement. Participants are recruited through broadcasted communications or promotion of engagement through networks.
- Representation – where participants are demographically or culturally representative, or they represent different points of view (discursive representation).
- Deliberation – this means encouraging participants to consider content and/or others views before they form and share their thoughts.
You should match the type of engagement to your:
- phases of engagement and objectives
If your mandate is an open, transparent and participatory process but you want to ensure diverse representation, you can invite stakeholders that hold different views and fit different demographics to participate. To do this you need to collect demographic data and progressively evaluate who is participating. Look at where they come from and the diversity of views received against your metrics of success. With this knowledge you can progressively refine your approach.
We recommend engaging with your stakeholders using participation and deliberation when your consultation is required under legislation.
If your mandate is only to engage with a representative sample of the population you can run a closed engagement. Participants can be recruited through a random selection process or targeted specifically. When recruiting through a random selection process, we recommend that an independent qualified body, like a research vendor, be employed to ensure your methodology is accurate and defensible.
Consider the implications of formal informal and social input
Formal consultation is required under a number of pieces of legislation in New Zealand. You may need to verify whether the input you gather through online engagement will be treated as formal or informal. There is debate about whether input gathered through online tools should be treated as formal or informal submission. Feedback collected through informal social methods is, in some cases, treated as sentiment rather than a submission.
Determine the levels and methods of participation
You need to think about how much participation you expect from your stakeholders at every stage of the process. Depending on your objectives you may have different degrees of engagement with different stakeholders during different engagement phases. The IAP2 spectrum is a useful tool to define how much participation you expect.
The following ‘engagetech’ engagement spectrum will help match your engagement purpose to the various methods available to engage online. It was developed by engage2 using the IAP2 spectrum. You can also use this tool in combination with information contained in the section on choosing the right tools for online engagement.
This image is also a spectrum. It has been developed by engage2 to show how technology can support the different levels of engagement. Engagement is written along the bottom to show how engagement relates to information and issues management. Relationship management runs above it to show that engagement relates to all levels of participation. It also matches the different ways you can engage online to each level of the IAP2 spectrum, which is displayed across the top as a semi-circle. To inform, you can use technology to listen and understand, promote, educate and distribute. When consulting you might crowdsource, prioritise and discuss ideas, and collect information and submissions. If you want to involve people in your engagement you can use technology to visualise and co-design options. To collaborate, use tools to co-deliver documents and outcomes. To empower stakeholders use technology to understand and build communities and networks.
There are several methods to consider when thinking about how much participation you want. Methods need to be matched to your mandate, objectives and the degree of engagement needed from different stakeholders during different engagement phases.
Each method will result in different levels of participation, which will influence the type of information you collect:
- two-way engagement
- three-way engagement
- thin methods
- thick methods
- online and offline.
To help define how much participation you want, think about:
- if you want it to be easy to comment or for them to consider content before they participate
- whether two-way or three-way engagement is the best choice and how will you encourage this
- what you want stakeholders to do: share an idea or a story or provide you with input
- do you want stakeholders to interact with each other by ‘liking’, voting, prioritising or discussing views
- how you will participate and keep your stakeholders engaged throughout your process, for example, by facilitating online discussion
- how these activities will support your offline engagement as well as other methods to engage online
- how to encourage stakeholders to come back to your channels so you can tell your story, collect information and track participation.
Two-way engagement is the process of sharing information and inviting others to provide feedback on it. Submissions or input received in other forms may be published but participants cannot like, share or comment on another participant's feedback.
Three-way engagement is the process of sharing information so others can comment or make submissions on it, then publishing that feedback so participants can reply to, like, share or comment on each other’s input.
‘Thin’ methods provide an easy and fast way for participants to add ideas, vote or comment and include:
- inviting input via social media
- idea generation
- using prioritisation tools.
Thin methods have little barrier to engagement because they do not require participants to:
- engage with content
- register to participate
- provide responses to questions.
You can use thin methods to encourage your stakeholders to come back to your channels, so you can engage them in the consultation in more depth, collect their input and track participation.
‘Thick’ methods require more participant investment because they encourage participants to view, read and consider content before commenting or sharing their ideas. Participants may also be asked to register to participate.
Thick methods have a higher barrier to engagement and take more time to engage. Incentives can be used to encourage participant engagement.
Thick methods include:
- document-based consultation
- online games.
Tools for thicker, more deliberative, online engagement are rare and often customised. These tools present content and move the user through a process before inviting them to participate. Some even allow you to track what content has been viewed by participants before they participated.
Deliberative online methods are being trialled alongside thin methods in participatory processes and to complement engagement with representative samples involved in deliberative processes offline such as citizens juries. Thick and thin methods can also be used together at late phases of engagement to encourage informed feedback.
Clarify if you will collect quantitative or qualitative data
Engagement generates both qualitative and quantitative data.
Quantitative data is easy to quantify and report. It is information that can be measured and written down with numbers. It is collected using closed questions, like multiple-choice.
Qualitative data is varied in nature. It includes any information that can be captured that is not numerical in nature. Open questions, uploaded submissions and videos are all examples of qualitative data. The data is invaluable, but harder to analyse, particularly with large volumes of data. Creating a taxonomy to allocate themes and codes, and creating infographics, user profiles and stories are some ways of reporting this information.
Consider how you will integrate online and offline engagement methods
There are lots of ways to integrate online and offline engagement.
Online and offline methods should mirror each other with questions asked on online platforms the same as questions asked at offline events, and engagement activities online promoted at offline events. You might also wish to create a reporting back process where input gathered online is reported offline and vice versa.
Publishing photos and notes from workshops after face-to-face and offline engagements provides great content for online platforms like blogs, social media or discussion forums.