Last week we discussed evaluating the purpose of a citizen engagement process. This week we continue our series of posts on evaluating citizen engagement processes by offering a few suggestions on how you might consider evaluating the mechanics of a citizen engagement process.
Once you know your purpose you can move on to mechanics of an engagement process. Questions you might ask as you setup the process include: What type of process would best engage our audience? What kind of process can we implement in a responsible and sustainable manner? What types of resources (including information, volunteers, rooms, equipment, food, etc.) will we need? What types of funds or in-kind donations are available? What kinds of outreach are needed? What level of participation are we hoping for? What type of training or orientation will be needed for the process to be productive? Setting baseline, (high and low) targets in these areas and developing related checklists for implementation will help in recruitment, volunteer training, and ongoing evaluation.
After you have already initiated a process you can ask, are we on track? Is our process operating as planned? Were our original assumptions and projections correct or do we need to adjust to changing circumstances? In evaluating an ongoing process you have to be willing to make changes in setup and how the dialogue is being facilitated. You may also need to reassess your expectations and slow the process down, allowing more time for discussion, or break it into stages. In a process focused on building citizen engagement, for instance, if citizens are in fact engaged, too strong of a push on “completing” the process and calling it finished rather than allowing for extra time, can create dissatisfaction, disengagement, and distrust.
After an engagement process you can evaluate the mechanics of what worked, and what might be improved and document lessons learned. Questions you might ask here are: Did things flow smoothly? Were resources available when needed? Was the process operated cost effectively? Were issues sequenced effectively? Were good connections made between various stages of the process? Were some channels of communication and outreach more productive than others and if so which ones? Did it vary by community? How satisfied was the public with the opportunities provided for input, or that their input was heard and valued? These evaluations can be shared with internal audiences for future planning, and making them public can also build trust with your constituents and demonstrate that you respect and want to encourage ongoing engagement.