Online or offline citizen engagement, which strategy is best?  Both online and offline platforms have their merits and when combined, they can be incredibly effective. Yet, cities don’t do this very often. Here’s how and why they should blend their citizen engagement platforms.

Online vs. offline citizen engagement?

Offline events organized by cities trying to engage their citizens don’t seem to be doing the trick. The internet has changed the way people engage with one another. Cities have started to catch up, adapting their communication techniques and using online platforms to engage with their citizens. Both online and offline methods have the potential to boost citizen engagement. Offline platforms allow local government and citizens to meet face-to-face and build long-lasting relationships. However, they are costly for both cities and citizens. The local government needs to provide human resources, materials and follow protocols for an offline event to take place.

On the contrary, maintaining an online platform is less expensive and more flexible. Offline methods require citizens to travel to and then sit through events in order to get the information they are after. With online platforms, a citizen interested in one specific project such as the construction of a municipal pool in her neighborhood, can go straight to the project page and get the information from the confort of home.

Also, offline events often have limited seating, whereas online platforms are open to all. As such, cities can engage with more citizens. Yet, online and offline participants can be different. For instance, online platforms mainly attract younger citizens than those who attend offline events. Hence, cities need to blend both platforms to co-create with all their citizens.

How to blend citizen engagement platforms:

1. Provide WiFi and use hashtags

First things first, in order for offline events to draw on the power of internet, cities need to provide free WiFi access to citizens attending their events. They should use also use a specific hashtag for the event.  Hashtags bring together conversations about a specific topic and allow citizens to interact live during events. Cities can use them to expand the conversation taking place at the event to its online citizens.

Example: #OccupyWallStreet, @OccupyWallSt

Social media citizen engagement participation

Occupy Wall Street is a movement that started in September 2011 in New York City, Zuccotti Park. Citizens protested against diverse issues such as social inequality and the unemployment rate. Yet two months before the offline event started, the organizers of the movement created an official Twitter account inspired by the hashtag #OccupyWallStreet. the hashtag was used to broadcast live updates of the events and gather citizens’ opinions. The movement mobilized thousands of people worldwide through social media. At the height of the movement the hashtag was included in more than 10,000 tweets a day.

2. Live stream offline events

Live streaming is a simple, cost effective way to boost engagement and has become increasingly popular in recent years. All you need is a solid Internet connection and a good HD camera or phone. Live streaming is a powerful citizen engagement tool because it shows transparency and allows interaction. Citizens really appreciate taking a peek at city meetings. It makes them feel more involved as they can interact directly with the politicians through commenting in real-time. For instance, cities can ask a question about a project and get an answer right away in their video comments or direct messages. Citizens can also interact with one another directly, which helps to create a community feeling.

Live streaming is a powerful citizen engagement tool because it shows transparency and allows interaction. Citizens really appreciate taking a peek at city meetings. Click To Tweet
Example: Online constitution crowdsourcing, Iceland

citizen engagement crowdsourcing constitution

In order to draw up its new constitution, Iceland used both crowdsourcing and live streaming. First, the council posted draft clauses and interviews with its members on its website and its social media page. Then, it opened its meetings to its citizens and streamed them live on its website. Citizens could see the constitution being written in front of them and post or comment on the clauses even though they did not attend the event.

3. Discuss online ideas at offline events and vice versa

City councils could post reports of their offline meetings with citizens or live stream them on their online platforms. They could also use the online platforms’ content to lead discussions taking place at their offline events. As online platforms reach more and different citizens than offline ones, they allow cities to collect a wider range of ideas. Once these ideas are assessed, cities can ask for opinions about them or perhaps even test them out at offline events. As such projects can be co-created with a wider range of citizens.

Example: CitizenLab, Belgium

citizen engagement online
CitizenLab is an online citizen engagement platform that cities can use to co-create with their citizens. The city posts its on-going or future projects on the platform. In turn, citizens are able to propose ideas, comment or vote for other citizens’ ideas. After the ideation process, cities can collect and export all these ideas in order to assess them. Later on, during offline events, these ideas can be tested or examined in greater depth. The combination of both platforms helps cities to come up with the best and most democratic projects.

Are you looking to engage with your citizens online and offline?

If your cities offline events are not having the desired effect, we’d be happy to show you our online platform so you can reach out to more citizens and collect a wider range of creative ideas.