What is Digital Engagement?
After our earlier post on defining civic engagement, we wanted to take a closer look at what digital engagement is; and why it is an important part of the civic engagement spectrum.
Digital engagement uses electronic communications tools to expand and strengthen the relationship between decision-makers and the public. Digital engagement tools range from those as simple as email and websites, to popular social media (including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) all the way to collaborative online discussions or workgroups.
Digital engagement for decision-makers
Online and mobile engagement allows residents to better understand and communicate with governments and other decision-makers and issue proponents. However, digital engagement does not replace traditional face-to-face engagement. Instead, digital engagement enhances the techniques that are already being used to reach out to residents.
Decision-makers can benefit from using digital engagement by:
- Listening to what’s important to community members on issues of sustainability in existing or new online spaces
- Sharing information about pressing issues and new opportunities through email, social media updates, and new posts to websites and other online spaces
- Receiving feedback on existing and potential services and programs through private or public comment tools
- Asking the public to consider options or trade-offs through digital discussion and learning tools
- Measuring public support through online surveys
- Sustaining involvement by updating individuals and communities through online and mobile updates
Digital engagement increases and diversifies public participation
Digital engagement can give the public a more interactive, fun, and informative way to participate in decision-making. It can also increase public understanding of decisions and foster potential support for ongoing implementation.
A key benefit of digital engagement is engaging hard-to-reach people, expanding input beyond the “usual suspects.” Some people, who are unlikely to attend traditional engagement events like public hearings or open houses, are more receptive to digital opportunities. As well, online channels of communication can connect you with diverse audiences that don’t pay attention to newspapers or other traditional information sources.
Digital platforms can help diversify and increase engagement by connecting with demographic groups—like young people, families, people with physical disabilities—who are less likely to attend a public meeting, but are comfortable participating digitally. For example, although people may be too busy to attend an open house, they may have a few minutes after work or before bed to comment online.
Benefits of digital engagement
The clearest benefits of digital engagement are better policy outcomes and better service design and delivery, through to more engaged and empowered citizens. Digital tools can deepen engagement with those who are already interested in the topics being addressed. As such, it offers the potential to reach new audiences who might otherwise not participate.
Other benefits that digital engagement offers include:
- Scalable engagement done in short timeframes
- Strengthening existing relationships
- Reaching new audiences
- Tailored to the situation and audience
- An enabling process for residents, giving them a greater sense of civic connectedness
- Cost savings—such as having applications created and data analysed by third parties, better targeting of engagement, and more efficient and effective policy outcomes.
While digital engagement is not a replacement to face-to-face methods, it’s an important complement for cost-effective and interactive civic engagement.
Image: ENTER by By Karsten Hitzschke on Flickr