Thursday, October 28, 2010
What the various kinds of citizen 2.0 want, how government mangers can give it to them, and why they should bother making volunteering more inviting.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written about the other half of Gov 2.0: Citizen 2.0.  My goal has been twofold: first, to help citizens understand that engaging government isn’t all-or-nothing.  Citizens can participate in meaningful ways both from home and outside it.  They can work in and for their community by themselves and as a team effort with their neighbors.  They can engage in civic activity by putting on work gloves, writing insightful comments on blogs (with links, please!), or writing code.

Equally as important, though perhaps not as explicit, I have wanted to help government managers understand how citizens are participating in Gov 2.0 and what government agencies can do to make citizen participation easier and more rewarding.  In my final post on this topic (for now), I want to address these two questions directly within the framework I’ve laid out.  

Many programs will have facets that can appeal to each level of Citizen 2.0, and some programs will have opportunities for all levels.  My hope is that managers will begin to incorporate citizen participation into every program that will benefit in a tangible way: by lowering costs, increasing effectiveness, or extending scope while holding down costs and time.

Encouraging Consumers

Why you should reach out to them: it’s easy, and in many cases legally required.

What they want: Information.  

Consumers are interested in what you have to say.  They want to know directly from the source what is being done, how, and by whom.  They may be adults driven by benign curiosity, or high school students writing papers, or journalists looking for background on a story.  They could be looking for facts, or they might want more of the story about a project.  

How to give it to them: Make sure that there is a digital communications component to every program that fully exploits every relevant, available channel.  

If you have interesting subjects for interviews, consider taking some audio recordings.  If you have good visuals, publish a flickr feed.  If you are receiving press, or if people are blogging about your efforts, tweet or blog about it, linking back to your digital content where applicable.

Encouraging Creators

Why you should reach out to them: they help perpetuate—and may increase—interest in programs that an agency runs.  They may also help streamline operations (in the case of filling out and submitting forms online), or offer valuable insights into an agency’s deliberative process.

What they want: online engagement.

These are people who are ready to talk with you, and with each other online.  They’ll help propel your conversations and generate interest in the topics you address.  They are also the people who want to streamline their own service by providing data or submitting forms through your site.

How to give it to them: allow for inter-activity (either synchronous or asynchronous) online.  Enable the comments section on your blogs.  Allow people to complete and submit common forms through your site.  Reach out to your audience on Twitter or other platforms and help them find venues for discussion.  Join those conversations yourself with links to resources to deepen the discussion while keeping it lively and on-topic.

Encouraging Co-Deliverers

Why you should reach out to them: They will help you carry out mission-critical activities.

What they want: real-world interaction

How to give it to them: determine which if your activities can be enhanced or augmented with volunteers, then give prospective volunteers that tools they need to assist you.

There are a few critical components to engaging and activating volunteers:

  1. Determine which activities are appropriate for volunteers: some activities, like grants management, require professional and accountable staff to execute.  Likewise, you wouldn't want to ask volunteers to perform any task that requires access to sensitive information.  
  2. Determine which volunteers are appropriate for which activities: some tasks that can be handled by volunteers, for example pruning plants in public spaces, are still better left to specific groups of people (in this case, adults).  So determine what specific groups you'll be reaching out: accountants, all adults, high school students, etc.
  3. Find those people: social media can help immensely here.  Many people either join communities that are tailor-made for certain activities (planning a river clean-up? Look for camping, hiking, or boating associations in the vicinity) or turn to social media sites like Facebook where people are likely to enter information about themselves that will help you find them.
  4. Make it easy for them to volunteer:  put noticeable buttons or features on your home page with a call to action and make the forms they'll need to submit clear and concise.
  5. Develop meaningful follow-up to encourage ongoing engagement: this is a critical step.  Once you've found a volunteer, don't let them slip away due to your neglect.  Thank them and ask them if they'd be interested in learning directly (through email, as an example) about future activities.

Encouraging Coordinators

Why you should reach out to them: They will help you reform the very ways your office achieves it mission.

What they want: to streamline government operations, to take control of mission-critical aspects of specific agency functions.

How to give it to them: make it easy for people to understand how your office operates and, if appropriate, what the pain-points are.  Publish data sets, maintain a management-driven blog, and reach out to the developer community at appropriate conferences and events.  Above all, try to create a culture that’s open to feedback and innovation from beyond the confines of your office and the traditional hierarchies that can stifle new ideas.