Barriers & Constraints to Adopting Online Technologies—Part II
During interviews with members of the property development industry, PlaceSpeak learned about several key barriers to the industry adopting online technologies for public consultations. These barriers can be divided into two main categories, with obvious overlap between each. These include:
- “Context Barriers” in the current industry environment that dissuade proponents and
- “Method Barriers” inherent to public consultation specifically relating to online factors
Last time we looked at context barriers. Today our focus turns to method barriers.
a. Achieving Statistical Significance
Proponents are concerned that information received from online consultation, such as results from surveys, polls, or even discussion forums cannot be or are not as statistically significant as other methods of engagement particularly because participants are self‐selected and opt‐in to participation and not randomly selected. However, proponents do recognize that some voices are inherently louder than other—both online and offline—and no matter the means, those who want to be heard will find a way to do so. Arguments can also be made for in‐person consultation methods where citizens always have a choice to attend and/or participate.
b. Complementing Existing Methods
Industry proponents may not understand that online consultation is meant to complement not replace existing methods of consultation. Industry proponents still express a desire for face‐to-face contact to see “the whites of one another’s eyes”. Many industry proponents may be hired or hire others to facilitate public consultation and concern over how certain jobs in the industry (ie. event facilitators) may feel threatened or unsure of how their position now fits into the consultation spectrum. It should be clear that open houses, public meetings, door‐to‐door are all still methods for engagement that can, should and will be conducted.
c. Abuse of Online Consultation
For industry proponents who have been early adopters of online consultation, they have encountered problems and learned important lessons that have shaped their desires for future use of online platforms. As with any new technology, online engagement can be seen as a big change and for many early adopters, attempts at online consultation have been problematic or less successful because there has been no rigour around authenticating citizens to place, resulting in “troll” attacks. A secure platform is extremely valuable for industry proponents.
d. Ease of Adoption and Use
Industry proponents are in search of online engagement platforms with interfaces that will make their jobs easier not harder. If platforms are not intuitive, requiring a steep learning curve and extra time, proponents will have a hard time justifying online engagement. This includes payment, set‐up of consultation and moderation. Some industry proponents admit consultation is not their forte, and that online consultation is a new method in a wider process that may be uncomfortable but necessary and thus must be guided and supported if they are to become early adopters of online practices.
e. Concerns Over Security & Moderation
The anticipated time needed to moderate online content concerns industry proponents. They do not want to spend significant portions of their day managing, responding, or even blocking respondents due to bad online behavior. Similarly, they do not want to be constantly notified of every single response in real time, especially if the consultation receives a lot of feedback. This ties back to overall security concerns that for the most part, anyone can participate, lending to the suggestion that authenticated online participation is increasingly necessary and valuable.
f. Easy Reporting
Industry proponents are also very eager to know how they will receive data from online consultation and how information will be segmented and if raw data can be easily analyzed to produce their reports. Past use of online engagement has indicated they are apt to use platforms that make their analysis as easy as possible.
g. Going Beyond Social Media
Most proponents acknowledge the ubiquity of social media. However, most forms of social media focus more on information and service delivery (ie. brand to consumer) and less on technology fostering civic participation. Industry proponents are beginning to recognize the potential for social media not only to propel their branding and corporate communication, but how it can be incorporated as part of the jobs they do and projects they develop. In order to gain better response rates, industry proponents understand that they must not only look to common social media outlets (ie. Facebook & Twitter) but also platforms that can do more than just communicate information to which “Followers” can respond.
h. Adopting Online/Offline Promotion Best Practices
A barrier to adopting online engagement is the inability to effectively advertise the consultation to the general public, much like recruiting residents to attend open houses. Having the online tool is not enough; offline efforts must accompany online consultation. Proponents have expressed that expectations should be managed around response rates, and that a variety of offline factors can influence the success of an online consultation.
This is the fifth of a series of posts on online public consultation in the property development industry. The series was inspired by a report by Maureen Mendoza as part of the MITACS Research Accelerate Internship Program and as part of course requirements with the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia. You can read and download the entire report here.