5 offline ways to complement online community engagement

‘Online community engagement refers to any form of community engagement with members of the public that occurs through the online channel… Offline community engagement techniques must complement those used online to cater for a diverse range of engagement needs and preferences.’

In reality it’s not hard as when you think about most online community engagement tools they have actually grown out of something that was once done face-to-face and so as we move to a more online society it seemed timely that I suggest five complimentary offline community engagement techniques and tools you can use to mirror when rolling out your online options.

1) Twitter vs comments card / postcards

Online: Twitter

Available to all, this social media platform is becoming a great place for consultations and a giving call to action. Even if it’s just to inform people that something is happening Twitter is a powerful engagement tool. I have seen some councils using Twitter to ask for feedback in 140 characters but also link/invite people via a URL in a tweet to submit longer comments on projects and have their say. The sharing of images adds a hint of collaboration and crowdsourcing to this simple platform.

Offline: Comments card/postcard

Yes the humble comment card is basically an offline tweet so much so if you want it to compliment the online alternative exactly you can restrict feedback on each card to 140 characters. Have you seen paper tweets? These are great little cards with 140 spaces for people to write a message which are then pinned on a comments board. As with Twitter, people can then scan the comments and if both the community participating and council engaging see fit actually tweet out peoples comments, print in newsletters/reports or take photos for other social media platforms to effectively show the world what people are saying. People can also add a sticky star if they agree with a comment.

2) Survey Monkey vs paper surveys

Online: Survey Monkey (other monkeys… I mean survey tools are available)

For me Survey Monkey is one of the simplest, and free to a degree, tools available to engage people in the online space. It basically does what it says on the tin, is a survey tool, which can be used by a monkey as it’s so easy to set up and share… no offence to monkeys. Used to consult, involve and at a push collaborate, surveys have their place in community engagement folklore and are living on in this online incarnation often used by companies and government to measure satisfaction after a service has been received.

Offline: a Survey

Almost a ‘no s**t Sherlock’ moment but it’s obvious if you are using an online survey tool then just do the exact same survey offline, simple right? But here is where it gets better. You can still use survey monkey to collate your results no matter how they are collected… SAY WHAT!!

3) Have your say vs public meetings

Online: ‘Have your say’ platforms

There are a number out there and are basically a webpage often built into the organisations own homepage where its stakeholders can have a say on the most recent consultation and in some cases give ongoing feedback. They are ultimately sites for increasing dialogue from consultation to collaboration. Examples include Bang the Table’s Engagement HQ and DELIB’s Citizen Space. Often these platforms include multiple tools for people to participate with including the option for dialogue, surveys and ranking tables but at an extra cost to the user. Favoured by seemingly progressive councils these platforms allow multiple consultations at once that are easily managed and moderated from a desktop computer.

Offline: A public meeting using a world café style approach

For a while now public meetings have been the boring talking shops of the ‘usual suspects’ and those who want a free sandwich and cup of tea. Yes occasionally you will be engaging on a subject that brings out some passion but normally this will only leads to those who shout loudest being heard by the few listening.

4. Budget calculators vs paper, pens and sticky dots

Online: budget calculators

Alongside the introduction of ‘Have your say’ platforms a number of joint (add on application to the ‘Have you Say’ function) and separate ‘Budget Allocator/Simulation’ tools have appeared over the last few years allowing Councils, States and health services to ask their residents and service users how best to allocate important community funds. Born out the growing movement around participatory budgets the online versions have given those who don’t have time to attend a workshop a chance to sit and play with fancy graphics, spending sliders and percentages that when changed estimate your final projected budget and outcomes for spending in certain areas. Some have an element of Gamification too as when complete you can share via social media with friends and ask them to do better. One of my favourites, which is no longer available online, was used by the Lambeth Library Service in London that asked users of the library to help them budget for the libraries future. It included the ability to use voluntary staff and cutting out old technology like CDs to help save money. Have a schooch around the Delib and Bang the Table websites and you will find their versions being used by councils in Australia and the UK.

Offline: Paper, coloured pens and sticky dots

Lets not lie. When your council’s annual budget comes out for consultation you probably don’t even realise. Unless there is a proposed, larger than average, rate rise which hits the news you may not even know a consultation is happening. Online budget tools are changing this as councils and other public services are starting to push more accountability on the way they spend to their communities.

  • Firstly set priorities with the community for allocating the budget and then for each priority, using a sliding scale on a wall, get those participating to stick a coloured dot on how much that priority should get
  • Print out circles on a piece of paper and ask people using different coloured pens to allocate a proportion/percentage of the circle to each area of spending — roads, libraries, leisure, waste collection etc
  • Gamification — Yes it’s been done online but it can also be done simply offline… think monopoly money. In fact here is an example of how I used this idea in local government when renewing a reserve. Map, flash cards, pens and fake money. Heyford Reserve Renewal.
  • Budget Challenges — a serious game about priority setting and trade-offs in community budget — http://everyvoiceengaged.org/solutions/budget-games/

5. Online mapping tools vs drawing a map

Online: Mapping tools

Like the online budgeting tools, Mapping tools have increasingly become available as an add on to your ‘have your say’ option or as separate consultation platforms you can build into your own website. Companies like Social Pinpoint and CrowdSpot to name just a couple are leading the way in online mapping tools that allow users to publically post feedback, ideas and issues on a consultation project and pin them to a map given them a geographic location. These pins can sometimes be colour coded or image based (and include image input — link a photo) to help categorise, collate and analyse the data collected.

Offline: Use a map or draw a map

Again there is a simple solution or two and ways to mirror this online option offline as the tools are already there. Maps are readily available and in most work places — councils/state governments — there will be someone who can get you a detailed printed map of any area. Once you have this map simply ask the same questions as you are online and ask people to use colour coded post-it notes or sticky dots to highlight certain ideas, issues and feedback.



Community Engagement, Civic Tech & Public Consultation Thought Leader. #gatehashing & #globalcommunityengagementday instigator.

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Andrew Coulson

Andrew Coulson


Community Engagement, Civic Tech & Public Consultation Thought Leader. #gatehashing & #globalcommunityengagementday instigator.