Online engagement

Meaningful and responsive engagement builds trust and confidence in Government’s ability to deliver to people’s needs.

  • Use a principles based approach to engage with your stakeholders online
  • Align your approach to your objectives and measures of success.

This guidance was created in collaboration with the NZ Online Engagement Community, which you are welcome to join. We thank Amelia Loye from engage2 for leading the development of this guidance.

The guidance is a work in progress, so please email us your feedback on how useful you found it, what was missing, how it could be improved.

Another option

As an alternative to using this guidance online, there is also a Word document version available for download: Online Engagement Guidance [.doc 3.51mb].

The case for online engagement

Internationally and in New Zealand, there is an increasing need for organisations to actively seek the public’s opinions, thoughts and ideas about policies that will impact them. There are a range of drivers and success factors to consider when you’re planning for online engagement.

Is your organisation ready for online engagement?

Organisations with an established engagement policy and strategy that outlines agreed approaches and procedures are generally more ready for online engagement. Organisational engagement policies should align with organisational policies on:

  • social media
  • privacy and security
  • information management
  • records management
  • stakeholder management
  • channel strategy.

We recommend that organisational engagement policies are published to show a commitment to transparency, increase trust and encourage constructive participation, e.g. NZ Transport Agency stakeholder and community engagement policy.

Quick reference

1. Planning your online engagement

Developing your engagement strategy

Your engagement strategy is where you will clearly define and communicate why you are engaging, your objectives and plan to engage. You will iteratively develop your strategy as you go through the planning steps. Without an agreed strategy you will find it difficult to match your objectives with your approach, manage expectations and risks, and select the right tools for online engagement.

Your engagement strategy should demonstrate the following engagement principles:

  • Set clear expectations
  • Plan and prepare carefully.

Identifying your stakeholders and their needs

Before you design your approach you need to consider who your engagement stakeholders are, how they might be interested or impacted by your proposal or project and how they might engage.

Your stakeholder identification should demonstrate the following engagement principles:

  • Be inclusive and reflect diversity
  • Honour the Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tīrīti O Waitangi.

Designing your online engagement approach

A high-level description of how you will engage online to meet your engagement objectives. When you have finalised your approach you will know the type of engagement appropriate for your project and the degree of engagement you want from different stakeholders during different phases.

Your online engagement approach should demonstrate the following engagement principles:

  • Build trust through transparency and responsiveness
  • Encourage collaboration
  • Encourage openness and learning.

2. Engaging stakeholders online

Promoting to and recruiting stakeholders

Decide the best methods for letting your stakeholders know about your engagement project and how they can get involved. Without sufficient promotion you are not likely to get the level of participation you need.

Your promotion and recruitment of stakeholders should demonstrate the following engagement principle:

  • Be inclusive and reflect diversity.

Communicating for online engagement

Create engaging content to overcome barriers to participation. Make it easy to participate and clear why and how people should get involved and what they will get out of it. Design proactive communications with your stakeholders’ needs and interests in mind.

Your communication should demonstrate the following engagement principles:

  • Build trust through transparency and responsiveness
  • Encourage collaboration
  • Encourage openness and learning
  • Be inclusive and reflect diversity
  • Honour the Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tīrīti O Waitangi.

Managing, responding to and sharing feedback

Your engagement project will generate information and relationships. You need to be ready to manage both. Consider how you’re going to analyse and report, moderate responses and feedback to stakeholders.

Your management, response to and sharing of feedback should demonstrate the following engagement principles:

  • Build trust through transparency and responsiveness
  • Encourage collaboration
  • Encourage openness and learning.

3. Selecting the right tools for online engagement

Consider what you need the tools to do

Your engagement strategy, including your mandate, purpose and approach will ensure you select the right tools and configure them to fit your objectives and the needs of your stakeholders. You will need tools that help you engage online and tools that help you manage stakeholder relationships, and the issues they raise. Managing this information well will give you insights past the timeframe of your current project.

Using tools that manage the engagement and the stakeholder relationships should demonstrate the following engagement principle:

  • Build trust through transparency and responsiveness.

Gather requirements

It is important to consider the online engagement requirements of the project team, internal stakeholders, and particularly from the people who you want to engage with and those requirements match your engagement strategy, objectives and approach. There is also number of Government standards, policies, mandates, legislation and guides that you will need to consider when developing your requirements.

Matching your requirements to your strategy should demonstrate the following engagement principle:

  • Plan and prepare carefully.

Find and select the right tools

Where possible look for existing platforms or services that match your requirements. This reduces duplicate spend across government. Ask around to see what others have used and share your experiences to reduce the cross government effort on sourcing online engagement tools.

Selecting the right tools should demonstrate the following engagement principles:

  • Make engagement standard practice
  • Plan and prepare carefully.

4. Configuring and launching your online engagement

Configure your tools

After selecting your tools you will need to set them up ensuring the design and content matches your objectives and your stakeholder needs and meets all necessary security and privacy requirements.

Tool configuration should demonstrate the following engagement principles:

  • Build trust through transparency and responsiveness
  • Encourage openness and learning
  • Set clear expectations.

Try a test run

One way of checking you’re meeting yours and your stakeholders’ needs and expectations is to test out your tools and content with some friendly collaborators.

Trying a test run should demonstrate the following engagement principles:

  • Encourage openness and learning
  • Plan and prepare carefully
  • Encourage collaboration.

Consider a soft launch

Including trusted stakeholders in a soft-launch will help to bring them along with you and will help to population your engagement platform with some early feedback. This will help to encourage others to participate.

Having a soft launch should demonstrate the following engagement principles:

  • Plan and prepare carefully
  • Encourage collaboration.

5. Closing your online engagement

After you have collected sufficient stakeholder feedback you will need to analyse the feedback, report on the findings, manage all the information generated, and evaluate the engagement project.

Closing your online engagement should demonstrate the following engagement principles:

  • Build trust through transparency and responsiveness
  • Encourage openness and learning

Further references

The following documents provide context and useful information for anyone designing and managing online engagement in New Zealand:

Acknowledgements

Amelia Loye lead the development of this guidance based on work completed between 2012 – 2015 by Laura Sommer (Department of Internal Affairs), Nadia Webster (Department of Internal Affairs), Janette Wallace Gedge and Nicola Martin.

A range of workshops, meetings, online surveys and discussions in the NZ Online Engagement Community of Practice have also informed the development of this guidance. We would also like to acknowledge the support of Professor Miriam Lips the Chair of e-Government and the School of Government team at Victoria University, Wellington for their support with the NZ Online Engagement Community of Practice.

Thanks also to Statistics New Zealand for allowing the reuse of parts of Methodological standard for Screen Design of Internet Questionnaires and Methodological standard for Writing and Constructing a Questionnaire.

The following professionals also provided critical advice and direction during the final stages of drafting of this document:

  • Jessica Musson – Manager Engagement and Consultation, Auckland Council, New Zealand
  • Michael Baranovic – Online Community Engagement Officer, Melbourne City Council, Australia
  • Ian Morris – Engagement Specialist, Independent Consultant, United Kingdom

We would also like to thank Wellington City Council for sharing their online engagement case study.

Endorsements

"The NZ Guide to Online Engagement is a comprehensive, concise, easy-to-use handbook for public officials and employees who want to engage citizens online. The guide will help people set goals, relate their engagement efforts to key yardsticks like the IAP2 Spectrum[1], and think through important challenges like participant recruitment. It also includes links to other resources that can help engagement leaders stay abreast of the rapid developments in this field." - Matt Leighninger, Executive Director, Deliberative Democracy Consortium, Canada

“It is wonderful to see more governments around the world taking active steps towards greater public engagement in governance and democracy. Greater public engagement in governance and policy design will help ensure we can all be more resilient and responsive to a rapidly changing world. Governments cannot solve problems in isolation, and genuine, effective online engagement is an important strategy for a modern government to tap into the wealth of expertise and experience of the broader community. This guide provides practical information and support for the New Zealand public service to better engage citizens in the decisions that shape their lives. Congratulations!” - Pia Waugh, Director, Open Data and Open Government, Digital Transformation Office, Australia

“DIA have developed a very useful guide, both to the basic principles of true, meaningful engagement and how this can be achieved using online media. The step by step guidance is very readable and provides a clear pathway to develop and implement an online engagement strategy appropriate for your needs. This guide will greatly assist in the expansion of our online presence, together with widening the scope of our current face-to-face engagement projects.” - Jason Paul, Community Resilience Advisor, Wellington Region Emergency Management Office.

[1] IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum, International Association for Public Participation (IAP2)