Sure, it’s an engagement party, but this one is all about getting citizens engaged in their own city. The City of Victoria’s Public Engagement Strategy is a way for the City to find out how it can better communicate and connect with its citizens.
There’s a challenge. How do you get citizens more involved? Most people would rather complain about how their tax dollars are spent than take the time to get involved – that’s just human nature. To facilitate this effort, the City of Victoria is holding a public meeting on October 28 at the Victoria Conference Centre (4:00 pm-9:00 pm) and using their Website, an online forum and a social network.
That kind of multi-pronged strategy makes sense, although it’s still too early to judge how effective it has been so far. The information on the City of Victoria’s website says that Victoria will be one of the first municipalities in the province to develop an engagement strategy: “Staff and council are learning what works best when consulting the community, and what the best techniques are for different situations.”
One technique is its Facebook page, which currently boasts more than 3,900 “fans.” Being a fan of a Facebook page doesn’t necessarily mean a high level of engagement – it just takes one click to add yourself as a fan – but there are a significant number of posts and replies on the page, not just by council or staff but by many citizens.
Going out on a virtual limb with social media
Social media is all about going out on a virtual limb, and taking risks by opening your organization up to very visible public criticism. On Victoria’s Facebook page, one writer expresses concerns about the Johnson Street Bridge project: “Do they have to keep reminding us? This bridge is costing each and every Victoria resident – man, woman and child – over $800” But taking this risk also means creating an atmosphere of honesty and transparency for citizens.
The final version of Victoria’s engagement strategy is scheduled to be completed in December this year, according to the timeline chart on the City of Victoria website. Other online tools for developing this strategy are a downloadable workbook in PDF format that explains the project’s objectives, and also the Ideascale Online Forum.
IdeaScale Online Forum a little perplexing
The Online Forum is an interesting, interactive tool powered by IdeaScale, a Seattle Web 2.0 firm, but it’s also a little perplexing. People can submit ideas and also vote “up” or “down” on any ideas that have been posted there. However, the forum doesn’t display the total number of votes cast for each idea, and each person’s “down” votes can actually cancel out other “up” votes, so it’s difficult for visitors to the page to see how much activity has been happening there. Perhaps Victoria will release some of these results when they do their “family friendly” public forum on the 28th.
Garth Von Buchholz is the President and digital media producer at DigitalPractices Media Inc. in Victoria. Email: Garth@DigitalPractices.com