Designing your online engagement approach

Your engagement approach is a high-level description of how you will engage. It describes how you will use various communication and engagement methods to reach your objectives. It’s about designing the engagement journey you will take your stakeholders on and how as a team you will manage the process.

To design your online engagement approach you will need to:

Consider the engagement project phases

A typical consultation project will have at least four engagement phases:

  1. Planning the project

Developing a mandate, policy and strategy for engagement, identifying stakeholders and preparing to promote activities and recruit participants

  1. Launching the project

Raising awareness, promoting engagement opportunities, recruiting participants

  1. Engagement

Collecting input, monitoring participation, refining recruitment, implement systems for ongoing communications and project promotion

  1. Close engagement

‘Close the loop’ by providing a summary of feedback received and project outcomes

Each phase often has its own objectives and requires different engagement methods or degrees of engagement to achieve them. You may engage some stakeholders differently depending on the phase and objectives of your engagement. For example, you may work closely through the launch, engagement and close phases of an engagement process with a stakeholder who is affected by a proposed change to minimise impacts.

We recommend developing a process diagram to help explain the different phases of engagement, and how you would like your stakeholders to engage throughout your project.

Consider the stakeholders' journey

The user journey refers to the process you would like your user or stakeholders to go through when engaging them online or offline.

In engagement the user journey can be thought of as how you will:

  • recruit your stakeholders and get them involved
  • direct them on what to do
  • keep them engaged or close the loop.

Illustration showing the user journey

Phases of Engagement

This diagram shows an example of engagement as a user journey. It has three steps shown as a triangle with connections between each. The three steps are:

  1. Recruit: which is connected to Consult by the words drive traffic
  2. Consult: which is connected to Engage by the words collect input; and
  3. Engage: which is connected to Recruit by the words closing the loop.

Mapping your stakeholder’s user journey can help:

  • further define objectives
  • select the appropriate methods for engagement and
  • select the best approach to manage stakeholder relations
  • track the progress and success of your engagement by defining them as a metric
  • ensure online and offline stakeholder engagement methods are integrated if you include both in your user journeys.

Determine the type of engagement

There are 3 types of engagement to consider:

  1. Participation – is an open type of engagement process where anyone can view or participate in the engagement. Participants are recruited through broadcasted communications or promotion of engagement through networks.
  2. Representation – where participants are demographically or culturally representative, or they represent different points of view (discursive representation).
  3. Deliberation – this means encouraging participants to consider content and/or others views before they form and share their thoughts.

You should match the type of engagement to your:

  • mandate
  • phases of engagement and objectives
  • stakeholders
  • methods.

If your mandate is an open, transparent and participatory process but you want to ensure diverse representation, you can invite stakeholders that hold different views and fit different demographics to participate. To do this you need to collect demographic data and progressively evaluate who is participating. Look at where they come from and the diversity of views received against your metrics of success. With this knowledge you can progressively refine your approach.

We recommend engaging with your stakeholders using participation and deliberation when your consultation is required under legislation.

If your mandate is only to engage with a representative sample of the population you can run a closed engagement. Participants can be recruited through a random selection process or targeted specifically. When recruiting through a random selection process, we recommend that an independent qualified body, like a research vendor, be employed to ensure your methodology is accurate and defensible.

Consider the implications of formal informal and social input

Formal consultation is required under a number of pieces of legislation in New Zealand. You may need to verify whether the input you gather through online engagement will be treated as formal or informal. There is debate about whether input gathered through online tools should be treated as formal or informal submission. Feedback collected through informal social methods is, in some cases, treated as sentiment rather than a submission.

Determine the levels and methods of participation

You need to think about how much participation you expect from your stakeholders at every stage of the process. Depending on your objectives you may have different degrees of engagement with different stakeholders during different engagement phases. The IAP2 Spectrum is a useful to tool to define how much participation you expect. The following ‘engagetech’ engagement spectrum will help match your engagement purpose to the various methods available to engage online. It was developed by engage2 using the IAP2 spectrum. You can also use this tool in combination with information contained in the section on selecting the right tools for online engagement.

Illustration showing the EngageTech Spectrum

EngageTech Spectrum

This image is also a spectrum. It has been developed by engage2 to show how technology can support the different levels of engagement. Engagement is written along the bottom to show how engagement relates to information and issues management. Relationship management runs above it to show that engagement relates to all levels of participation. It also matches the different ways you can engage online to each level of the IAP2 spectrum, which is displayed across the top as a semi-circle. To inform you can use technology to listen and understand, promote, educate and distribute. When consulting you might crowdsource, prioritise and discuss ideas, and collect information and submissions. If you want to involve people in your engagement you can use technology to visualise and co-design options. To collaborate, use tools to co-deliver documents and outcomes. To empower stakeholders use technology to understand and build communities and networks.

There are several methods to consider when thinking about how much participation you want. Methods need to be matched to your mandate, objectives and the degree of engagement needed from different stakeholders during different engagement phases.

Each method will result in different levels of participation, which will influence the type of information you collect.

  • two-way engagement
  • three-way engagement
  • thin methods
  • thick methods
  • online and offline.

To help define how much participation you want, think about:

  • if you want it to be easy to comment or for them to consider content before they participate
  • whether two-way or three-way engagement is the best choice and how will you encourage this
  • what you want stakeholders to do: share an idea, a story or provide you with input
  • do you want stakeholders to interact with each other by ‘liking’, voting, prioritising or discussing views
  • how you will participate and keep your stakeholders engaged throughout your process, e.g. by facilitating online discussion
  • how these activities will support your offline engagement as well as other methods to engage online
  • how to encourage stakeholders to come back to your channels so you can tell your story, collect information and track participation.

Two-way engagement

Two-way engagement is the process of sharing information and inviting others to provide feedback on it. Submissions or input received in other forms may be published but participants cannot like, share or comment on another participant's feedback.

Three-way engagement

Three-way engagement is the process of sharing information so others can comment or make submissions on it, then publishing that feedback so participants can reply to, like, share or comment on each other’s input.

Thin methods

‘Thin’ methods provide an easy and fast way for participants to add ideas, vote or comment and include:

  • inviting input via social media
  • crowd-sourcing
  • idea generation
  • using prioritisation tools.

Thin methods have little barrier to engagement because they do not require participants to:

  • engage with content
  • register to participate
  • provide responses to questions.

You can use thin methods to encourage your stakeholders to come back to your channels, so you can engage them in the consultation in more depth, collect their input and track participation.

Thick methods

‘Thick’ methods require more participant investment because they encourage participants to view, read and consider content before commenting or sharing their ideas. Participants may also be asked to register to participate.

Thick methods have a higher barrier to engagement and take more time to engage. Incentives can be used to encourage participant engagement.

Thick methods include:

  • document-based consultation
  • e-learning and
  • online games.

Tools for thicker, more deliberative, online engagement are rare and often customised. These tools present content and move the user through a process before inviting them to participate. Some even allow you to track what content has been viewed by participants before they participated.

Deliberative online methods are being trialled alongside thin methods in participatory processes and to complement engagement with representative samples involved in deliberative processes offline such as citizens juries. Thick and thin methods can also be used together at late phases of engagement to encourage informed feedback.

Clarify if you will collect quantitative or qualitative data

Engagement generates both qualitative and quantitative data.

Quantitative data is easy to quantify and report. It is information that can be measured and written down with numbers. It is collected using closed questions, like multiple-choice.

Qualitative data is varied in nature. It includes any information that can be captured that is not numerical in nature. Open questions, uploaded submissions and videos are all examples of qualitative data. The data is invaluable, but harder to analyse particularly with large volumes of data. Creating a taxonomy to allocate themes and codes, creating infographics, user profiles and stories are some ways of reporting this information.

Consider how you will integrate online and offline engagement methods

There are lots of ways to integrate online and offline engagement.

Online and offline methods should mirror each other with questions asked on online platforms the same as questions asked at offline events, and engagement activities online promoted at offline events. You might also wish to create a reporting back process where input gathered online is reported offline and vice versa.

Publishing photos and notes from workshops after face-to-face and offline engagements provides great content for online platforms like blogs, social media or discussion forums.

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This 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.

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