The secret to true engagement?

by / Thursday, 16 November 2017 / Published in Uncategorized

The last decade has seen a transformation in community engagement by Government departments. Traditional “town hall” style meetings and telephone research have been increasingly replaced by the arrival of a variety of engagement portals and online surveys. With varying levels of success, departments are using digital tools to canvass opinions on everything from proposed procurement policies to use of public parks.

Worldwide, however the most effective community engagement portals appear to be those run by independent third parties. Since the 2010 UK Government launch of the “Your Freedom” campaign inviting suggestions for changes to the laws of the day, (an initiative so popular that the website melted within an hour of launch), the most effective public engagement in Government is the award winning

As part of his campaigning for the November 2015 Canadian election, Pierre Trudeau and his team were unusually active in the sheer number of things they planned to address if elected. Within four weeks of his taking office, a new website listing all of those promises in detail was launched to celebrate the arrival of the new Government.

But not by Trudeau. Or his people. The brainchild of independent Canadian developer Dom Bernard, the privately funded venture painstakingly listed 167 different pledges made by Trudeau and his campaign team, (today’s number is 226) helpfully grouped by themes including the economy, the environment, immigration, culture and security, each accompanied by a simple bulletin board.

In a real stroke of genius, members of the public were invited to become “promise trackers”, whose role was to ensure that the site was kept up to date by adding relevant news or announcements.

Now two year old, free to use and accessible across the World Wide Web, headed by a simple dashboard showing promises kept, the website takes the notion of “keeping them honest” to a new level. Within a week or two of launch, 700 people had commented on Trudeau’s promise to amend the “first past the post” system. That figure is now over 1,000 and 59 promises are complete. Trudeau might be very happy with that. The voters will decide what they think about the 36 promises apparently already broken.

Having spent a good chunk of time in the community engagement and performance reporting arena in Government, I’d say there are four key reasons why this website has changed things forever.

  • It is gloriously independent (of Government).
  • It unites voters in a shared collective responsibility in “keeping them honest”.
  • It costs (virtually) nothing to run, update, amend and publish.
  • It’s the best daily barometer of opinion that any Government has.

That last point may have surprised some people. Why would Government need external help to know how they are doing? Don’t they have researchers and opinion pollsters already?

The secret is in the detail. One of the brilliant things the website does is provide a live, real time barometer of people’s thinking. About which really important issues are actually really important as opposed to the ones that no one really cares about.

Clearly, during the fever of electioneering, someone in Trudeau’s team thought it was important to make a promise along the lines of

“Parliamentary committees will be given more resources to acquire independent, expert analysis of proposed legislation.

In hindsight, it may not be a big surprise that only two people have been moved to comment on this once important issue. And one of them was commenting on the other. If I was Trudeau, I’d have already shuffled this down the list of priorities.

Independent, authentic and changing every day. This is the modern world. And brilliantly, a version of the site has been launched in Argentina tracking the promises of newly elected Premier Mauricio Macri. By listing progress in real time, it’s a win win for Governments who are getting on with stuff. And it helps them manage priorities.

I wonder whether future elections in Australia, State or Federal could ever be followed by a “Trudeaumetre”. Turnbullmetre? Bishopmetre? Shortenmetre? I’ve already bought all the URL’s, just in case…