essays , academy , strategy , opinion 20 minutes

Crispin Butteriss

Crispin co-founded Bang the Table and is the Chief Practice Officer. Crispin's doctorate explored the application of organisational and adult…

Eight advantages of online communication for citizen engagement

There are a number of clear advantages and disadvantages of online communication that need to be considered when you are planning a digital citizen engagement strategy.

Online discussion forums have long been used in educational contexts as part of a broader movement towards online learning. Citizen engagement around complex public policy via online forums provides a similar environment in which discussion participants are able to share their views, enter dialogue, and learning from each other. In this context there are, however, clearly advantages and disadvantages of online communication. In my view the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages, however, it is as well to be aware of the disadvantages so that strategies can be put in place to minimise their impacts on participants.

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Communicating online is still considered the “new kid on the block” in both educational and public policy contexts, more so in the later. Because of this “newness” it is still having to prove itself through a multitude of qualitative and quantitative research projects. While you won’t find me arguing that online communication should replace face-to-face engagement processes, there are clearly a lot of benefits from online communication that make it a very valid modality for community-government relationship building. I’ve outlined eight advantages of online communication below, but there are, without doubt, many more.

#1. Online community feedback options increase citizen participation rates by providing flexible access to participate asynchronously

Flexible access to participate asynchronously increases participation rates

Online forums are accessible 24×7, anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. Public gatherings are not.

We have seen this advantage demonstrated clearly in the visitation patterns of each of our client’s EngagementHQ citizen engagement sites.

advantages and disadvantages of online communication

Some 60% if visitors to our client’s sites do so during their working day with peaks around morning and afternoon tea. It is quite clear that the majority of users take full advantage of the convenience of the opportunity to get involved in the discussions while they are at work rather than in their own time. In contrast, the vast majority of traditional citizen engagement processes take require participation either after work during the week, or on valuable weekends when there are far more interesting things to be doing. As a result of this convenience, we have often seen vastly higher online participation than face-to-face participation in policy discussions.

Our observations mirror those of online course providers. College Atlas notes that:

Many people participate in online courses because of the flexibility they provide. Online college degrees and programs make it possible for students to work during the day and complete their studies from their homes at nights. Those who spend a lot of time traveling due to work can also complete their education in their spare time.

The competition for “time” is tough. Everybody has lots to do. It’s hard enough getting someone’s attention, let alone convincing them to prioritize your issue above all of the other things they have to get done in a day. “Convenience” is a crucial strategy. Online participation, like online learning, is the most convenient form of citizen participation.

Photo Credit: Bad or Good by Mario Mancuso

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