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Articles in "Research"

I recently started to wonder:

“The way online engagement is managed in different states feels different… is it different?”

Turns out the answer is: “yes.”

As I looked through our data, one thing was inexplicable to me: the difference in database sizes (the number of registered participants in the ‘online community’) from state to state AND site to site.

Why were some so much lower than others?

Policy officers are regularly on the move in central government. This presents a challenge for effective consultation, as their knowledge and skills travel with them. In order to begin sharing the skills for great consultations, Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) piloted their first workshop on ‘consultation procedures and principles’ with colleagues.  What can other central government departments learn from running a session like this?

In a refreshing style, rather than asking some seasoned experts on how to advocate on youth issues they asked actual successful youth advocates themselves.

The speakers all had interesting and inspiring stories to tell about their own advocacy projects which carry a lot of useful insights for other would-be youth advocates and the organizations that seek to work with them and to support them.

But what struck me most as a person working on knowledge sharing, with a side interest in transforming the UN, was how relevant some of the key ideas were to our continual discussions on how to improve development organizations themselves.

So what does the evidence about citizen engagement say? Particularly in the development world it is common to say that the evidence is “mixed”. It is the type of answer that, even if correct in extremely general terms, does not really help those who are actually designing and implementing citizen engagement reforms.

This is why a new (GPSA-funded) work by Jonathan Fox, “Social Accountability: What does the Evidence Really Say” is a welcome contribution for those working with open government in general and citizen engagement in particular. Rather than a paper, this work is intended as a presentation that summarizes (and disentangles) some of the issues related to citizen engagement.

NRC survey data identifies types of residents who are the most active or, in some cases, the least vocal. Individuals living in a community for more than 10 years, for example, are about three times more likely to attend public meetings and contact elected officials than new residents. Among racial groups, Asians tend to have the lowest participation rates. Low-income residents also aren’t as active as those earning six-figure incomes.

After this year’s TransparencyCamp, I’m convinced the transparency and open data community has moved to a new stage of its development. As recently as three years ago, we were excited by the first civic organizations popping up in various countries and by governments opening large datasets for the first time.

Since then, the community has grown considerably larger and stronger. The discussion very much shifted from how to get the data to what to do with it and how to connect better internationally. Cross-country cooperation, advocacy campaigns and data standards are becoming the hot topics at conferences and on high-profile mailing lists.

With this shift in focus, there’s a new need in the community – a need for rich, accurate and timely information on what kinds of organizations, projects, tools, stories and experts exist, where they are and what they’re doing. The phrase I heard probably the most often at TCamp, as well as at the last year’s OKCon, was something like: “Gee, I wish there was a website listing projects like these," or “Where can I find all these awesome tools?"

Second, this work makes an important re-reading of some of the literature that has found “mixed effects”, reminding us that when it comes to citizen engagement, the devil is in the details. For instance, in a number of studies that seem to say that participation does not work, when you look closer you will not be surprised that they do not work. And many times the problem is precisely the fact that there is no participation whatsoever. False negatives, as eloquently put by Jonathan.

Community and urban planners have developed a range of tools to engage the public, particularly the most affected residents, in development decisions. Despite widespread usage of these tools, however, there is little information about their effectiveness, or lack thereof, when used with neighbors and communities.
 

UC Berkeley convened focus groups in communities surrounding four Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations: Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station, Lake Merritt BART station (Oakland), San Leandro BART station and Diridon station (San Jose). Researchers then asked participants on the usefulness of several tools. UC Berkeley modified tools among the focus groups depending on each station area’s particular needs and issues. For example, affordable housing was a top topic in San Leandro, so researchers primarily tested the suite of affordable housing tools used.

A new study finds that about 14 percent of Americans use social media as their main source of information about a federal agency, and 30 percent use social media to ask the government a question or resolve a problem.

The inaugural J.D. Power 2014 Social Media Benchmark Study—Government measured citizens’ experiences with the social media marketing and servicing of 12 federal agencies.   

Agencies use social media marketing to build awareness of their missions, services and products and to build positive relationships with citizens. Servicing via social media includes answering specific questions or resolving their problems.

“Each federal agency’s social media strategy is different based on that particular agency’s mission,” said Greg Truex, director of the government practice at J.D. Power. “An effective social media strategy can ultimately reduce marketing and servicing costs when it’s integrated effectively into an agency’s overall communications plan.”

In fact, the survey found that subscription email is still the most engaging channel for subscribers.