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Does Digital Engagement Really Exist?


What do I mean by asking ‘Does digital engagement really exist?’

As I have categorised this post under digital engagement it suggests that I believe in the concept, but lets see where this leads…

I was struck last week by the comments of @betonykelly and @timolloyd from BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, England) during an informal get together called Teacamp.

They both made the point that government was in danger of collectivising and standardising some online activities. For example there are now round robin requests asking Departments to RT others messages. How long before there is just one government Twitter account and no departmental accounts?

But it was more than this as they also suggested that there was a danger of just using online tools and not doing much listening. As Bettony said how often do we ever consider who is not talking about a topic – how do we engage with them. As Tim said there is a chance that we are in a limited window when government can really engage online but that chance might disappear if it is not handled well?

Perhaps the key point is that Bettony said that we should we really be calling all these activities outreach. Perhaps the fact that we are using online tools is merely a co-incidence?

I could not agree more. I was asked recently if I could find certain people in a particular sector online, then contact them online and interact etc. I was not keen on that at all. Why?

Well firstly it would be time-consuming and probably not very accurate or effective. So I said to my colleagues why not run an event and call it something like ‘Meet the auditor’ and aim to send out a wide invite online and offline which would work better than narrowing it down too much at the start. This could cover different sectors over time such as education, health etc.

Holding a physical event would mean that there was something more tangible for the audiences to remember. A real ‘putting a face to the name’ moment. Other benefits would be that these contacts might get to meet new people in the same sector. Therefore they would probably appreciate that the NAO had organised such an event and be more likely to engage with it in the future. It would also help build up the relevant community.

Is this engagement or outreach? I am not sure. But what it is not is being driven by the tools available – which often just happen to be digital.

If we talk about ‘digital engagement’ logically should we not also speak of ‘face to face engagement’ or ‘email engagement’ or ‘phone engagement’?

So how about aiming to engage or reach out with some clear objectives and then work out the best method or tools?

Nick Halliday is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Dennis McDonald

Excellent points. Too much of the so-called “social engagement” in the corporate world really involves building platforms for message distribution given that real engagement and two way communication take so much staff time. I hate to see government go down this road as well.

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