Community Engagement Software Principles
So you’re looking for software to help you manage your public consultation process, or just generally for more efficient stakeholder data management. Or perhaps you’re not sure if you really need specialised software, after all there is always Excel, right? Then again, you might be a consultation manager who has already experienced the joys of managing multiple spreadsheets and you’re ready to step up to a more specialised tool. Whatever stage you are in that process, here are three key principles to consider when designing the implementation approach and the structure of your stakeholder database.
Principle 1: Short term vs long term
Your immediate need might be just to get one central up-to-date list of stakeholders that your whole team can use. With good consultation management software you’re going to achieve that in no time at all. Especially if you can upload existing spreadsheets of contacts, push them from your email program, and have the system take care of managing duplicates and doing some basic clean up for you. The short term is covered, you need to design for the longer term. But here’s the trick – you need to think about the long term, but design for the medium term.
- If you design for the short term, you will miss many opportunities your new software offers. You’re so worried about getting an up-to-date list together that you don’t think about what other options are available to you once you have that list in place
- Designing for the long term can be too ambitious for most organisations. It’s easy to be sold on a great vision, but you still need to get people there. You need to have a clear vision and set of goals in mind, and allow for it in your design. But you need to stage your implementation to help tackle those goals in ‘bite-sized chunks’.
- Designing for the medium term is a stretch, but still achievable for most teams. It’s ‘close’ enough that people can still relate to it and belive in the possibility of getting there. If it’s too ambitious (given where you currently are), or too ‘pie in the sky’, people will not buy into the process or the vision.
Principle 2: Manage the change process
Implementing any new software is always a change process in an organisation. Stakeholder management software is no different.
- Consider the strengths and weaknesses of the team that needs to drive the implementation, and of the eventual users of the system. What training and support services do you need to put in place to support them?
- Make the process and the objectives clear to everyone – explain what’s in it for them, and what’s in it for the organisation.
- Identify some quick wins – it is essential to recognise progress and strengthen confidence in the process.
Principle 3: Less is more
Stakeholder engagement and public consultation processes can generate large volumes of data, and the tendency is to try and capture it all. Asking more questions in a survey, tracking more issues, more data, more work. So much so that we stakeholder engagement practitioners often get ‘lost’ in the data and fail to see the important themes, because we are too busy dealing with the data instead of interpreting it.
Less really can be more. But you need to be strategic about it. Ask the right questions, instead of just asking lots of questions (which not only gives you less time-wasting useless data but is also more likely to get a higher response rate). For every element of data you want to capture, ask yourself “how will I use this information? What decisions/processes will it influence?”. And importantly, also ask your team “how hard will it be to collect/update this information – is the reward worth the effort?”. Simple questions, but when used effectively they can really help you streamline your data capture and record-keeping processes. As we all know, a simpler/faster process is more likely to get your team members actually following it and entering data.
And at the end of the day, what use is a consultation management system if nobody will use it?