Evaluating online engagement

Hello all. Apparently that post before last was a bit long… well, I’m afraid I just had alot to get off my chest on global-local deliberation on climate change!

Today I’ll be brief to make up for it…

My presentation for the Participation and Social Media Action Learning set run by Tim Davies  at LGIU is right here.

It is *hopefully a simple starting point for evaluation aimed at those setting up an online engagement project. My main argument was that a good evaluation tells a compelling story through combining qualitative  and quantitative information in a clear format to key decision makers and practitioners.


Climate Change : Local deliberation on a global issue

Last week I was in Edmonton, Canada discussing how to go about setting up a province-wide public deliberation on Climate Change. There are a number of significant challenges around taking forward a regional deliberation on climate change and this is particularly true in Alberta – a province with a thriving economy based on its rich natural resources.

In this post I want to look at just one of those challenges – a question which can be transferred to any regional or local deliberation on climate change:

How can a localised deliberation effectively address what is a shared and global issue?

Just before arriving  in Alberta I read a recently published US Government scientific report which outlines ten key findings on climate change. These findings are bold for a US focused climate change document, and with Obama at the helm, we can expect to see more where this came from;

Ten Key Findings from the recent US Global Change Research Programme report:

  1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.
  2. Climate changes are underway in the United States and projected to grow.
  3. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase.
  4. Climate change will stress water resources
  5. Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.
  6. Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge.
  7. Risks to human health will increase.
  8. Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.
  9. Thresholds have already been crossed and have lead to large – and in some cases, irreversible – changes.
  10. Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.

However, these points are not country or region-specific, and we all know that even decisive action from the mighty USofA cannot address climate change on its own. Climate change is a shared and global concern, involving and affecting all nations and citizens, particularly those from key areas of growth and vulnerability such as India, China, Africa and Brazil.

In Canada, the Albertan economy has benefited enormously from the extraction of natural resources in the North of the province, making it one of the most dramatic Canadian economic success stories of recent years. However environmentalists and sustainability experts consider the oil extraction industry in general and the Athabascan oil sands in particular to be disastrous for the environment.

Yet does now seem as if there is now a real chance for meaningful dialogue and deliberation at this point in time more than any other. A number of influential factors have recently shifted, providing a clear opportunity for progress on climate issues in Alberta for the following reasons:

  • It is becoming clear that ‘business as usual’ extraction of resources cannot continue, partly in light of the current economic climate and partly due to increasing global pressure to curb emissions
  • The USA, Canada’s most influential neighbour  is taking a strong lead on environmental issues as reflected in proposed initiatives such as Cap-and-Trade
  • The scientific evidence base connecting human action to climate change is becoming more compelling, the messaging is more mainstream, and public concern seems to be on the increase in key countries including Canada.
  • Influentials are changing their attitudes; indeed one of the authors of the Albertan economic success story, ex-premier, Peter Lougheed, is now looking to re-write the ending by slowing down development and taking a more measured approach to extraction. Although this might not be the answer that green advocacy groups such as the Pembina Institute are looking for – it is perhaps indicative of a rising sea-change in attitudes towards the environment from both political and business leaders.

All the same, due to the significant economic interests that the energy industry brings to Alberta,  it will still be challenging to create a truly open and meaningful deliberative dialogue on environmental and energy issues in the province. What is more, if the shared and global nature of the  issue is not addressed adequately as part of any local deliberation there are a number of serious resultant risks in any such regional process:

1) Potential participants do not engage with the proposed citizen engagement process in the first place as they feel it cannot make a difference. The lack of acknowledgment of the global context of the climate project may leave individuals feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the issue.

2) Participants, once engaged, feel powerless to affect real change, and feel that their contributions are without significant meaning given the scale of the task in hand. Whatever initiatives or actions are proposed at a regional level at the end of an engagement process are seen to be just a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to the true scale of the problem.

3)    Participants do not fully engage with and understand the wider context of the challenge of climate change and sustainability and end up making recommendations based solely on the regional experience (This is not to say that say, the Albertan context is not important and special, but it is not and should not be considered to be the full story.) No region can solve the problems alone.

4)    The benefits and lessons learned through an experimental  deliberative engagement project are not disseminated to benefit or inspire others. This process of communication and ‘reporting out’ could make a significant impact on the way in which climate change is addressed by citizens and decision makers across the globe, as examples of best practice are sought out increasingly by provincial leaders  unsure as to how to proceed on climate change.

How can we address these issues?

I believe that there are a number of factors to consider when planning a regional deliberation on a shared global issue such as climate change. Firstly there is a need to address the scale of the issue in a way which feels empowering, not overwhelming. Humanising climate change and encouraging connections is important to help ensure that potential participants do not feel that they are experiencing and solving the problem in geographic isolation. Connection can help to provide a sense of global perspective and of being part of a larger community.

Secondly, deliberation cannot be confined to linking concerns with discussion –  there needs to be a further connection between deliberation and action. In other words, participants should feel that they are not acting independently, but that their decisions and ideas should be coordinated or  linked in some way across regional boundaries in order to be more effective in addressing the issues.

Finally; learning from any regional deliberation is well-disseminated in order to inspire others to participate in planning their own regional or local deliberations.

Below, I have outlined just a few potential ideas to address the four risks listed above. Ideas below correspond to points above.

1) A global network of interested organisations should be grown around the project and clearly signposted so that participants and decision makers feel, and are, part of a larger more powerful international network of deliberation working to advance the issues in a productive way.

2) Participants could be enabled to connect at some point in the deliberations with citizens in other countries, whether directly over the web or asynchronously through video reports and forums. Twinning of global towns and cities based on a commitment to progress on environmental and economic issues could be facilitated to encourage global dialogue and understanding.

3)    Deliberations should necessarily have some global context and framing, and should not be concerned solely with regional issues. Information and materials provided should have an inspiring global dimension and not focus solely upon the region in which the deliberation is located.

4)    All processes should be designed with replication and transferability in mind. Materials should be produced under the creative commons license for distribution. Translation should be encouraged and made available where appropriate. Regional pilots such as the Alberta project should be seen as innovators, leading the way – but  should also acknowledge that they cannot ‘solve’ the problems alone.

In conclusion, climate change is a global problem requiring an understanding of some part of the complex systems behind the issue before a meaningful and empowering deliberation can take place. I believe that locally focused dialogue and action has a very important role to play in finding a solution, but that any meaningful deliberation relating to policy change must address the global context. Finding the balance between local-global is the key in terms of framing the issues, motivating participation, and for more informed and impactful policy input.

Audit of Political Engagement : Duty to Involve

The Hansard Society published its latest Audit of Political Engagement on April 1st. Makes for a fascinating read considering how much energy has gone into meeting NI4.

(NI4: National Indicator4 is a benchmark by which local authorities are judged on how empowered people feel at a local level.)

I have highlighted some of the most interesting parts from a public engagement perspective here below in green.

Perceived influence over decision-making at the local and national levels
An overwhelming majority of the public feel they have ‘not very much influence’ or ‘no influence at all’ over decision-making in both their local area (73%) and the country as a whole (85%). However, more people feel they have an influence in their local area than in the country as a whole (25% versus 14%).

So it seems as if there is a swing towards local influence rather than national, yet still the positive results are very low overall showing that the public at large still feel disengaged from the policy decisions that affect their lives.

Reasons for not feeling influential in decision-making
The most commonly cited reasons for not feeling influential in decision-making point to a belief that politicians and the political system overlook the public’s views. The top two answers, ‘nobody listens to what I have to say’ (29%) and ‘decisions are made without talking to the people’ (20%) convey a strong feeling among the public that they are ignored by decision-makers. Other popularly cited reasons include ‘the system doesn’t allow for me to have an influence’ (19%) and ‘politicians are just out for themselves’ (17%).

So, we have more opportunties than ever before to be listened to through a variety of initiatives at local and national levels – yet still people feel as if their input is not taken into account, that decisions will be made without them.

Desire to be involved in decision-making
Half the public do not actually want to be involved in decision-making in their local area. Even more – 55% – do not wish to be involved in decision-making in the country as a whole.

This is really the most interesting one for me – about half of us just don’t want to be involved… why is this – I have a number of ideas:

1) because we feel like we’re not being listened to by those in power as mentioned above.

2) We’re too busy and tired to get involved anyway, we have better things to do with our time (see below.)

3) The formats for engagement that exist require alot of time and effort for people to participate in them effectively-in other words, traditional methods are still letting us down.

4) The effects of ‘consultation fatigue’ or cynicism increase owing to many meaningless consultation tickbox exercises. These create a vicious circle, bringing down the standards and reputation of public involvement across the board, and reaffirming people’s feelings of not being listened to.

Barriers to participation among potential participants
People who do not currently feel that they have an influence in decision-making – but who say they would like to be involved – were asked what factors, if any, prevent them from doing so. Nearly half (40%) cite lack of time as the main reason.

Let’s have a quick dose of realism to finish off – it seems like we basically have better things to do with our time! The experience of public involvement at national or local level should be a pleasure, not a pain – it is just one of many activities and commitments that competes for attention in people’s lives. Too often, still, it is an uninspiring experience for those who do actually turn up at the town hall.

The Duty to Involve (which requires local government to involve citizens in decision making as a matter of course) has just come into play as of April 1st. I just hope that it leads to higher quality, more considered consultation and involvement – not just MORE consultation and involvement. If this is the case, then we should expect to see even worse results in these areas in next year’s audit.

So – if we want people to engage with services, with local decision making and with policy formulation then we are going to have to try a damn sight harder to make those processess better; making them more

1) Genuine

2) Open and Inviting


4) Responsive (ie. tell people what happened afterwards.)

I am sure there are a few more to add to this… any ideas?

CauseWired : A Web 2.0 Book Review

Review In Brief: Causewired is a new book by Tom Watson which chronicles next generation social activism, or the ’causewired’ phenomenon – people connecting directly on social issues using the web to make a difference in real life. Its pretty interesting, has some good real life examples of the power of web 2.0 so you should probably go & check it out!

Review in Full: Its true that I don’t habitually get my news through the broadsheets anymore – and that when I do get the chance to spread out the newspapers and browse through them it feels like a luxury. Maybe its something to do with the amount of time and concentration it takes to rifle through and unfold the various supplements, find what I’m looking for without a search engine, and then read something with a wordcount longer than 500 in its entirety without any links to source material or comments from other readers to distract me…. ;)

Despite my lack of dexterity and slight attention dysfunction – I do still persevere with getting information in this way, albeit less often than I used to. Of course, this move away from the printed press doesn’t mean that I read any less information, or that I’m accessing it less often. In fact my information sources are far greater in number, infinitely more diverse and (too) frequently accessed by me than ever thanks to RSS, e-newsletters, blogs, Twitter, online journals, and regular Amazon deliveries of the latest books to take my fancy.

So… I’ve increased my digestion of online, interactive, peer to peer, user generated news and info alongside a scaled down consumption of the of printed stuff; but whatever printed articles and books I do choose to take the time out to read from this deluge of information – I’m reading them quite differently now.

The way I access and absorb information has become far more interactive. As I read, I am more actively re-evaluating the text than before, wondering what other people I know think of the material and (much to the irritation of certain print fanatics!) am constantly writing notes in the margin of printed articles/books and intermittently googling references as I go…wondering more than ever before ‘what does this actually mean in practice for me, for my work, friends family?’ etc.

So, bearing in mind all of the above, I hope you’ll better understand what I did when I received a copy of Tom Watson’s new book CauseWired last week and why it matters.

What I did when I received Tom Watson’s CauseWired last week … and was it worth it?

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I started reading from the beginning, marking the interesting sections in the margin (of which there were many) and then googling my favourite references and quotes in what proved to be a fascinating chronicle of the way in which social media and connectedness is changing the face of philanthropy and activism.

Tom W writes clear and interesting accounts of how regular people have used social media tools to highlight the ongoing issues they face in their community or that they care about across the globe. He disscusses the citizen-led coverage of New Orleans post Katrina, of how Darfur and cancer research centres came to be so well supported on Facebook, of how the face of political campaigning is being changed forever, and many other fascinating practical examples of social web tools in action. I googled all of this stuff, and proceeded to skip around a few chapters back and forth and skimmed some bits, went on to discuss the references with colleagues and IM’d a couple of friends about what I’d read. Then I joined the Facebook group and contacted the author on Twitter to let him know I’d be writing something up about his book on my blog.

Then I lent the book to someone else interested in online stuff – and I hope to get it back to read the bits where I left off to go googling… :) Then I watched some Obama videos on YouTube, joined a Darfur campaign group on Facebook and sent an awareness raising video to a few friends, and finally, I clicked online to donate some money to a small charity in Africa that I only heard of and keep in touch with through email/blogposts.

The book is a great resource for anybody who wants to better understand what all this web 2.0 stuff actually does, and what it means for ordinary people right across the globe when it comes to social change.

So, yes, it was worth reading; and what is more, it was worth passing on, so I wrote it up here on my blog.

Web 2.0 is changing everything we do in a whole variety of ways both online and crucially in our everyday lives -some of these shifts are more subtle than others and they even apply to a bog standard book review like this one.

So below, please find the rest of my web 2.0 book review, or in other words – check out these links for more info. What you choose to do with that info will be the interesting part… :)

Max Gladwell

Steve MacLaughlin

The Mongoose

David Bailey

Reading List: Morgan Inquiry, MORI:Impact of Empowerment, Carnegie UK

This is what I’ve been reading over the last day or so with some brief info and initial thoughts on each:

1) Morgan Inquiry

Report looking at barriers to volunteering for young people aged 18-24.

The inquiry found that:

  • volunteering needs to be more flexible- possibly supporting an 8hours/year volunteering allownace with employers
  • there needs to be greater clarity in terms of jobseekers’allowance that volunteering is a valid route to employment
  • there needs to be better and more centralised information on opportunities available for volunteering
  • there needs to be formal recognition of volunteering

Seems to me that the most easily fixed would be the information issue – V are doing good work in this area already, why not support them further to continue and develop this work. Also, could link this promotion to an awreness campaign amongst job centres around clarifying status of volunteer work for jobseekers’allowance claimants.

Also, seems to be something missing around motivations to volunteer in the first place- though I realise this wasn’t exactly in the scope – it is v.significant.

2) Searching for the Impact of Empowerment

Ipsos MORI report using survey data from the New Deal for Communities National Evaluation to look at how involvement in NDC activities, and feelings of ability to influence link to feelings of community, trust and quality of life.

It does well in trying to unpick some of the tricky discussions around subjective and objective empowerment (ie. feeling like you can change stuff for the better, and opportunities to engage with decision making.) It backed up the more small scale qualitative research looking at the impact of empowerment in that there are relationships between involvement in local activities/feelings of abilty to influence – and positivity around general satisfaction with life/community/local area/wellbeing.

BUT – as with all the best reports – more research is required ;)


  • Who wants to be empowered and what does that mean in practice?
  • What are we trying to acheive through empowerment?
  • What is the best way to measure the good done through empowerment?

3) Carnegie UK Annual Review

Does what it says – a review of Carnegie UK’s activities and outline of future plans.

Building on the work of the futures work Carnegie recently did around civil society – the review highlights some really interesting areas of work across all its programmes.

Random quotes that stood out for me:

“our aim here(in futures work) is to assist citizens working at local, national and international levels to prepare for change and to combine their strengths to try and determine that change.”

“The challenge of sustainability and the threat of climate change is a common theme in public discourse, yet the implications are largely uncertain and potentially devastating. Perhaps this threat presents an opportunity to strengthen civil society and re-engage people in formal politics?”

“What collective action can rural residents take to build resilient communities? We understand the ‘resilient rural community’ to be one which accepts that any status quo is unable to last for long and that the community needs to be constantly learning new ways of self-sufficeiency, collaboration and living errangements. Every dimension of life is up for challenge and creative response”.

Right – am off to read a novel now….

Only Connect

So, I’ve been getting some stick as to what this blog is about exactly –  and would refer you on to the about section…. if you’re too lazy to click, have copied it in below!


Only connect

The more we fill our lives with tasks and objects, the less time we have to connect with one another and with ourselves. 

This blog is all about repairing and renewing our connections – whether that is to yourself and your inner motivations or to friends, family, neighbours, strangers and structures of governance and power. I look at these ideas through the rather blurred spyglass of engagement, personal empowerment, public participation and involvement and aim to focus in on ideas around communities, people and connections in a way that brings it all back to practical outcomes and end results.

In a world where ‘anger and telegrams’ define our urban environments more often than ever – the call for connection has become ever more urgent.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, And human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect…

Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the gray, sober against the fire.

–E.M. Forster, Howards End —

Bla bla blah….etc.