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Learning from Angry Birds for Digital Public Engagement

Digital democracy pioneer Chris Quigley presented yesterday at a digital democracy event in Vancouver that I organized in collaboration with Simon Fraser University, which offers the Certificate in Dialogue and Civic Engagement. Over 30 Vancouverites heard about Chris’ work with Delib, a UK-based online engagement firm with experience working with governments in Canada, the United States, Australia and United Kingdom. Read Chris’ summary of the presentation.

One of the most useful takeaways was Chris’ Angry Birds inspired thoughts on how to use the principles of gaming for better public engagement. Check out his full presentation on Angry Government. Chris’ key points (and my comments in the inset bullets) are:


Photo by Chris Quigley

  • Challenge: set citizens challenges (active), rather than asking them to ‘have their say’ (passive)
    • Susanna Haas Lyons: this requires identifying tasks that are appropriate for the target participants within real, actionable, policy moments
  • Narrative: provide a compelling narrative (e.g. using a video introduction from the decision maker)
    • SHL: Connect the narrative with participants’ own lives and how participation will help them have some influence on these issues
  • Feedback: provide active facilitation, creating a dialogue with citizens
    • SHL: Feedback should occur throughout the process. Immediate feedback includes things like auto generated emails to thank participants for adding an idea and ensuring they receive email notice about new comments on discussions they are participating in. Medium term feedback includes updates on the status of an idea (labeling things ‘in process’ or ‘being considered’) and providing ongoing summaries of what’s been heard to date. Long term feedback is about “closing the loop” and letting participants know how their ideas have been considered in formulating next steps
  • Rewards: thank participants, send them an email once they’ve taken part
    • SHL: Also consider featuring participant contributions on the website home page or in newsletters, and posting videos of decision makers expressing their thanks for public input
  • Interaction: make users want to click more. Make it engaging and easy to use. Provide different ways to participate other than comment.
    • SHL: this is very important for increasing the numbers of people involved. People passionate about the issue will take time to add an idea or comment. People who care enough to participate but are impeded by competing priorities need opportunities to rate, prioritize, watch and share
  • Collaboration: let people work together to solve a problem
    • SHL: yes!

Chris also talked about Delib’s experience with large-scale crowd-sourcing (also known as crowdstorming or ideation) from their work with the federal UK Coalition Government 18 months ago. And we are talking large scale! They engaged 500,000 and 250,000 people in these two crowdstorming efforts. Check out his presentation on Adventures in digital democracy.

Participants chewed on Chris’ presentation in small groups and came up with a few insights to take home:

  • Getting the discussion question right is essential
  • Public engagement needs to be fun. Chris used the term “consultation by stealth” to describe engagement that is both fun and gathers public input
  • More interesting tools, like Delib’s My2050 project, can also be more expensive
    • SHL: interactive tools like opinion sliders and drag and drop ranking of ideas can be very cost accessible
  • Credibility of the engagement relies on reporting outcomes of the engagement and “closing the loop” to clarify in what ways public input did or did not impact next steps
  • Crowdstorming requires transparent criteria for selecting ideas that will advance; this shouldn’t be done behind doors
  • Engaging on complex policy issues requires balancing simplicity of communication with true representation of the issues
  • Promotion is an important part of the engagement – people need to know about it if they are going to participate

I organized this event in cooperation with Simon Fraser University’s Community Education Program, which offers the Certificate in Dialogue and Civic Engagement where I teach a workshop about Online Public Engagement.

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Susanna Haas Lyons
Susanna Haas Lyons is a public engagement specialist. Bridging online and face-to-face methods, she develops strategy & provides training for better conversations between the public and decision makers.

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