A council can typically engage with people it knows about via their ratepayer address, or because the person has engaged with the council previously. But communities include many people that aren’t ratepayers or haven’t had a reason to engage before. Furthermore, people can be stakeholders in places other than where they live. Consider a person’s place of work, their children’s school, a rental property, or a relative’s house.

Councils are missing opportunities to engage with stakeholders in the community, and vice versa, because neither is aware of the other’s involvement or interest in various matters.

The social media effect

In the last decade, social media has been the go-to channel for attempting to reach communities. The way it reaches far and wide makes it an attractive option. But this doesn't make it perfect. Social media is a little like standing on a building with a megaphone. People might turn up to listen (i.e. follow your organisation), but to determine if something is relevant to them, they have to stick around and pay attention to everything said.

With all the competing content on social media trying to get people’s attention, many people become selective about what they pay attention to on social media channels.

Increased expectations from digital interaction

People’s expectations for digital interaction have been raised by their experience with banks, airlines, and online shopping, to name a few. People want to interact when it suits them. They expect responsiveness, good outcomes, and an experience that's personalised and relevant to them.

“We get lots of feedback that people don’t want to go looking for information, they want it to come to them,” Mandy Evans, Marlborough District Council.

When a council connects closely with its community, it can better understand the community’s behaviour, requirements, and pressures. Technology helps expand an engaged audience. More community perspectives can be heard, which can lead to more representative decision-making. It can move the nature of engagement towards collaboration as a means for public participation.

Getting people involved in matters that are relevant to them — and at times it's convenient — is likely to lead to greater attention and more ongoing participation. When people are involved, they’re more likely to be engaged. When they’re engaged, they’re more likely to be satisfied.

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