Stakeholder Engagement: 4 Tips for Taking It Online

I’m sure you’ve noticed a bit of chatter lately surrounding federal agencies’ pursuit of smartphone apps, data portals and other stakeholder engagement platforms. Leaders intend these innovations to attract visibility to agency activities and establish themselves as digital leaders in an industry that typically has been slow to deploy consumer-facing technology. The underlying enthusiasm behind improving stakeholders’ digital experience is well intended – government should always seek better ways to understand the needs and expertise of constituents. However, too often agencies will rush to procure a new toy without doing proper due diligence. Questions regarding cost of investment, cost of ownership, potential readership and application maintenance need to be considered before acquiring any digital tool. Without sincere requirements gathering, a new engagement platform might be seen as a leader’s pet project and negate the benefits of transparency, co-authorship, time effectiveness and stakeholder satisfaction that were originally intended. I have written about the upside of experimenting with low cost or Open Source solutions, and these gains are especially apparent when considering a stakeholder engagement platform.

 

Here are 4 success factors to incorporate into your online stakeholder engagement strategy:

1. Defined Intention: Market demand should prompt the launch of a new stakeholder engagement platform, not technology push from in-house decision makers. Agencies should gauge the success of “engagement” by the community it fosters, so it only makes sense to make sure that the platform satisfies a stakeholder or programmatic need before rolling it out. Be specific in defining why your organization needs stakeholder input, how much access you want to provide them, and what types of interaction they’ll respond positively to. This helps narrow the myriad of nuanced, low-cost technology options that are at your disposal. For instance, a content aggregator might fit if your agency wants to establish itself as the nexus of an emerging thought leadership community. A crowdsourcing Wiki page is best suited for data collection and stakeholder authorship on a topic that internal staff doesn’t have the bandwidth or expertise to master.

Sadly, most citizens won’t download an app only to read about new contract awards and speaking engagements. And that’s okay since you wouldn’t want to use this one-way engagement model anyway. Most agencies’ missions are too complex to define success by simply counting clicks or pages per visit in isolation. Modern engagement in the public sector renders technology into sustained, positive relationships with stakeholders that improve the discourse surrounding an organization or program. Aim for an engagement platform to foster two-way communication – where agency leaders raise public awareness on agency vision and receive direction from stakeholders.

2. Avoid Unnecessary Cost: Entry-level web development shells to build these engagement communities are available for (next to) nothing, and allow staff without HTML and CSS experience to build clean, functional platforms. These development engines alone won’t get you all of the capabilities that modern web users want without a little work, but they’re quick to market and avoid sunk time, cost and productivity. Plus, nearly all can be easily integrated with free, off-the-shelf plugins like Google Apps, jQuery, and these landing pages. These low-cost additions will invite more conversation and traffic to your cause without the time or headache that results from manual development.

Web-hosted communities will also save your agency countless hours by reducing the need for 1-on-1 conference calls and out of town meetings by engaging stakeholders at scale. Pairing this convenience factor with minimal tech overhead will boost productivity, budget execution and goodwill with stakeholders.

3. Transparency & Visibility: Regardless of their level of involvement, executives, staff and stakeholders can continuously monitor progress on an effort when an engagement community is hosted online. Entire teams can contribute ideas, pose questions and network amongst themselves at their own convenience – and all parties involved will thank you for it.

The online collaboration model also harnesses the power of peer Review and the“Wisdom of Crowds”. Gathering as many data points as possible from a diverse stakeholder base will stress-test your agency’s direction without the need for separate research efforts.

4. Motivated Coalition: Transparent, web-based platforms allow your core stakeholders to invite peers to the cause, creating self-sustaining momentum around your program. Transform an ordinary working group into motivated evangelists by capturing this momentum in final products and strategic development. Stakeholder advocates represent trusted communication channels to state and local constituencies, and ensures that your agency’s knowledge products gain traction (and don’t just gather dust on a shelf somewhere.)

 

What challenges does your organization face when engaging stakeholders? How could low-cost online platforms help mitigate these challenges?