In Featured, Research Article

For thriving public agencies, engagement is no longer an idea or option, it’s a requirement – an active expression of your commitment to encouraging participation from the community. Implementing and maintaining engagement is an adaptive art that looks different for every agency and even every engagement attempt. By prioritizing activities and deliberately creating space for authentic engagement, you will build trust with your communities. Each consistent and timely engagement activity will build upon the last to create a genuinely vested community where residents are eager to devote their time to making their community a better place.

How do you know if your engagement is effective or if the community believes it’s authentic? While one-time engagement efforts are valuable, sustaining those relationships and using them for future collaboration is the best measure of success. Here are ways to assess your community’s current engagement levels.

Attendance to Ongoing Meetings

Agencies typically see the same one or two residents attend every session. However, involvement by these individuals is not an accurate measurement of engagement. Low meeting attendance can be attributable to many factors: are the meetings too long, difficult to attend, boring? Do participants leave without any answers to their questions or concerns? To create excitement about your meetings, include an important issue at every meeting, keep conversations about routine business succinct, encourage open communication, and be prepared to address concerns.

Activity on Social Media Sites

It’s great to see agencies with many followers and even more encouraging to see interaction from the community. Pay close attention to the type of interaction on social media, as this is a telling sign about how your posts are viewed. The effectiveness of social media posts can be ranked in relevance based on reacting, commenting, and sharing. Reacting shows engagement at a very superficial level, but at least the post is being read. Commenting on a post typically reflects either support or lack of trust, depending on the comment. To increase participation, respond to every comment, even if the response is to thank the participant for their insight. Individuals who share your posts are the most engaged as they are willing to promote the subject with a larger group. Consider including a call to action that asks the reader to like the post if they find it helpful or share it if it’s valuable.

Satisfaction Survey Results

While the results of one engagement activity alone do not determine your engagement program’s effectiveness, it does give perspective and affords you the opportunity to shift gears (if necessary) to make the next engagement event more impactful. Follow up each extensive engagement activity with a satisfaction survey. Use the results to create a game plan for a better-received event in the future.

Contact Information on File for Community Members

The size of your Rolodex matters. When it comes to building trust with residents, there is a direct correlation between the participants’ willingness to share their contact information and their confidence level that the contact information will be used effectively. Build a contact database using every available interaction – meeting attendance, website visits, social media, etc. Focus on inclusion; reach out and listen to those who oppose as well as those who support the endeavor. Open communication will build on previous engagement events to continue realizing collaboration efforts.

Through small but intentional steps, your agency can easily encourage participation. If your assessment of the above items revealed a lack of community engagement, use the suggested enhancements and continue striving to foster effective, authentic engagement. Over time your endeavors will build trust and provide great insight into your residents’ priorities.

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