Last week, two different consultation exercises were launched by two Whitehall departments, each tackling the issue of how to engage people through the web slightly differently. Firstly, there was DCLG with their blog/twitter/forum combo; second was DIUS, with their funky little CommentPress number. Which is faring better, I wonder?
So far, Hazel Blears’ blog on the DCLG site has seen four posts, one of which included a bit of video, which was nice. The first post has seen the most number of comments, with 14. The subsequent posts have had a comment each, and the latest one none so far. The forum has seen seven replies. On the plus side, though, the Twitter feed has 83 followers, most of whom have been followed in return. This is a useful number and I would hope that the Twitter experiment, if nothing else, continues after the initial 7 days.
What could be done to increase the levels of participation on the blog, though? Here’s a couple of ideas:
- Find out who is writing online about the White Paper – Simon Berry’s Pageflake will do well, otherwise, just try Google.
- Respond to what people are saying on their blogs by leaving a comment, or
- Write a post responding to what people are saying on the Empowerment blog, linking and quoting each post
This would open people’s eyes up to how this type of online consultation and collaboration could work, reassuring the bloggers that they are being listened to and allowing people to join in conversations started elsewhere.
One disappointing thing is that so far, no-one from the department has responded to any of the blog comments, nor the forum entries. But while several people have been pretty scathing about this short term experiment in online, I still hope that it can succeed as a way of bringing in the views of those who might never normally be involved in this sort of consultation.
Over on the DIUS site, there has been a little more activity, and even better, some of it has come from policy officials. In total, 115 comments have been left on the site, with regular responses from one David Rawlings, who a quick Google reveals is Head of Innovation policy at the department. Great stuff.
The DIUS site will be running until the middle of September, so if it continues at this rate, the Innovation team could have a hell of a lot of stuff to wade through. That’s a good thing though, right?
Nice analysis, Dave.
Both projects are still in their infancy, but I think it’s only fair to point out some of the unfair advantages DIUS has in this case:
- a dedicated Community Manager who has spent time identifying who is active online on these issues, and can sit with policy officials as they work out what they might respond to and how to approach it – and someone who can moderate comments quickly so they don’t get stuck in the system
- specific policy ideas for readers to respond to, because Innovation Nation is a White Paper rather than a more open-ended consultation. Specific stimulus often tends to elicit more comment, as I learned in my years in market research!
- a ready-made stakeholder list we could mailshot on launch day to invite them to respond to the interactive doc (many of them responded to the initial consultation in the autumn too)
I’d underline that the value of a Community Manager to bridge the gap between officials and stakeholders or those discussing these issues online has been enormous for us. As government starts to engage in new ways, I hope we start to see more Community Managers embedded in policy teams combining the skills of strategic comms, digital literacy, training/coaching, and stakeholder engagement. I think that’s how we’ll really change government communication online.
The role of a community manager – or similar – is indeed absolutely vital, Steph. Indeed, many of the things I pointed out that CLG could be doing would fall into that remit.
Think I have a post brewing on this topic, actually…
Thanks for your support, Dave. It’s counter-productive (and very easy) for social media evangelists to criticise government’s baby steps in this area. Teams like mine and Steph’s are pushing this agenda from within, and helping officials and ministers deal with this new way of receiving and responding to feedback. The points you’ve raised above are all grist to our mill, and repeat the advice we have already given. A helpful post.
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