The program allowed citizens to directly collaborate, edit and comment on the plans for the future development of the city. It attracted more than 30,000 visits by nearly 7,000 individuals and over 200 edits to the plans, ranging from spelling and grammatical corrections through to lengthy well-considered contributions (and not one instance of spam, off-topic or offensive content).
Reading through an offline presentation on Future Melbourne, the program involved several stages,
- Specification and construction of the environment in collaboration with Collabforge using a free wiki tool (Twiki),
- training of the Future Melbourne team, who moderated the wiki throughout the consultation process,
- a preliminary closed wiki round (13 – 25 March 2008) to test the technology with stakeholders,
- an open wiki round (17 May – 14 June 2008) allowing anyone to read or modify the Future Melbourne plan.
Participation Policies & Guidelines and a Netiquette guide were developed to help participants understand the framework for engagement.
The wiki was monitored on a day-by-day basis to ensure appropriate conduct was upheld and changes were tracked via the wiki system.
Some of the learnings of the program included:
- Make it as easy as possible - even pressing 'Edit' can be a daunting proposition
- Requires leadership and support - organisations cannot simply provide a structure, they must actively provide internal support and 'figureheads' to guide the community.
- Change management is important - the shift to an always-on direct online consultation approach requires changes in mindset to support the speed and tone of organisational involvement in the medium.
- Acknowledge and manage the potential risk - be aware of the potential risks (offensive material, spam, negative comments, etc), put in place appropriate policies and guidelines to enforce standards and monitor the system.
- Keep expert advice on hand - don't rely on past experience from other consultation mediums.
- Stay in touch with the outside world - maintain a watch on other online engagement and comments on the consultation in other online sites, try to keep the community informed and engaged throughout the process.
I hope other public sector organisations are considering similar routes to engage their customers and community.