Build It. But Don’t Forget to Tell People.

community engagement field of dreams


The importance of strategic communication in collecting feedback.

Does it age me to reference the movie Field of Dreams?

Maybe. But some of you might remember “If you build it, they will come.” As a strategy that might work for conjuring ghosts and (oddly) tourists, however it does not work in local government. Granted, I should not be looking to a Kevin Costner movie for sage advice, but it drives me nuts that this phrase has been adopted as a public engagement approach.

Let me be clear, high-quality, easy-to-use, engagement tools are a requisite. And, an engaging, comprehensive web presence like that provided by Bang the Table is important to successfully gathering public input. But building the site is not enough. You have to tell people about it, so that they can come visit.

Communications is the backbone to public engagement. Here’s why:

Informed feedback

Before residents can share opinions about an issue, they need to understand the context. Our job is to share information in a concise, understandable manner so that our residents can provide feedback based on both opinion and knowledge.

Take action

Despite how incredulous it sounds, most of your residents have no clue how to engage with local government. In addition, to sharing background information, you must clearly tell them how to share their thoughts. It’s marketing 101: have a strong call to action.

Credibility

Explaining the issue and telling residents how to engage is only half the battle. We need to also share what we’ll do with their feedback and then report on the final results. Too often we fail to close the communication and engagement loop. We gather input, we use the input, but we never take the time to tell our community how their voice was integrated into the final product. This additional step builds stronger connections with residents and boosts your credibility as an organization.

Overall we need to spend more time building engagement tools so that people can come to us with their feedback. However, we need to spend an equal amount of time communicating about the issue, explaining how to engage, and demonstrating how feedback was used.

 

Kim Newcomer
Slate Communications CEO | Founder