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Using Online Tools to Engage – and be Engaged by –The Public

This 40-page report by NCDD member Matt Leighninger was just published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government — and you can download it and even order free hard copies at www.businessofgovernment.org/report/using-online-tools-engage-public.

This 2011 report begins to pull back the veil on how public managers can make use of the various online engagement tactics and tools currently available to them, and when they work best. Matt’s report describes common scenarios where public managers may find themselves needing, or using, public input.  He describes a mix of ten different tactics managers may find useful for engaging the public online and highlights over 40 different technologies in use today to support those kinds of engagements.

The IBM Center for the Business of Government plans to add to the report over time based on evolving best practices.

Excerpted text from the intro:

How Should This Report be Used?
This report’s structure displays many of the capabilities of online technology. The electronic version includes a link that allows you to submit additional online tools, examples, and comments. We will then use this input to prepare periodic revised editions of this report….

Engaging the Public in a Wired World
Deciding how best to use online tools to engage the public may be the ultimate moving target for public managers. This is not just because of the rapid development of new tools, or “apps,” for engagement. The main challenges now facing government managers are understanding:

  • The increasing complexity of how people organize themselves online
  • Citizens’ evolving expectations of government

These challenges are faced by public officials in an environment of dramatically increasing social media activity, where the worldwide community of Facebook users now exceeds the population of the United States. In this changed environment, users are organizing themselves into networks and communities defined by shared interests, relationships, or geography.

The concern about the “digital divide,” which used to focus on the relatively simple question of how many (and what kinds of) people had Internet access, has become more complicated as different populations coalesce within different online arenas and technologies. Before selecting the best way to communicate with citizens, it is important to understand:

  • The most challenging term to define in “using online tools to engage the public” is neither “online” nor “engage,” but “public.”

It is also important to understand that engagement is now a two-way street: more than ever before, citizens have the capacity to engage their government and to insert themselves into policymaking pro- cesses. The Internet has accelerated this shift, but it has been evident for some time in traditional face-to-face settings, first in local politics and increasingly at the state and federal levels.

Faced with these new citizen capacities and expectations, government leaders have realized the need to be more proactive in their approach to the public, resulting in a wave of civic engagement efforts over the past 10 years….

Download the full report (or order free hard copies) at www.businessofgovernment.org/report/using-online-tools-engage-public.

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