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Public Consultation

How to Host a Successful Discussion Forum


DiscussionDiscussion forums are one of the foundations of online engagement, and a key part of the PlaceSpeak platform.  Successful forums can encourage community debate and dialogue about complex issues. A compelling discussion forum can inspire people to become more personally invested in the topic at hand, and there communities in general.  Moreover topic participants are more likely to return to a topic page—and share it with their friends and neighbours— when they know that meaningful discussion is occurring.

If consultation topic hosts want to making the most out of discussion forums, they need to consider what encourages participants to post an idea, offer a solution, or offer an opinion, from the  beginning of the process. You wouldn’t host an in-person open house or community forum without giving some though to the type of feedback you are looking to receive, yet when it comes to online topic, our experience has been that many topic hosts leaving the discussion questions to the last-minute.

Moreover, discussion hosts often focus too much on the specific outcomes that they want to pursue. Many times these outcomes are too technical or narrow in scope to resonate with the larger community.  When posing questions, try to take a step back and think about how your project will impact a communities quality of life.  Think of the impact your project will have on issues like families, jobs, commuting and social life—things that affect a person immediately and directly.  Enabling participants to have a voice in the day-to-day life of their community gives them more incentive to take part.

Another common stumbling block in hosting discussion forums is not joining the conversation yourself.  While it is understandable that topic hosts want to hear from community members, it is important that discussion participants see that you are actively listening to them. This could be as simple as thanking contributors for their comments, clarifying a point of fact, or asking a follow-up question to learn more about a point of view. Basically, you want to show that you are actively engaged on the conversation and hearing what people are saying.

To learn more about hosting a successful discussion forum, check out our white paper on writing engaging online discussion questions.


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