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Tuesday, 3 December 2013

61. Find the point of public interest

One the questions raised by our Scrutiny Bytes project is 'what type of digital content will the public want to share, read and respond to?'   This matters because this is exactly the content that councillors are going to want to pass on to the public.  Of course this is something that goes wider than digital content and is an important issue for public engagement more generally.  Here are some first thoughts.

The point of public interest, as illustrated by this rather impressive felt tip Venn diagram (does it make you nostalgic for OHP presentations?), is the overlap between what the council (or other government body) is doing and what the public are actually interested in.  The former is easy to work out but the latter less so.

Democratic content is different from the content produced to support service delivery.  If you are producing content for the public as customers, for your council website say, you have a lot more to work on.  You see what people are searching for and design your ‘top tasks’ to reflect this.

For democratic content, however, you are producing content for the public as citizens.  You are working on the basis of what people are entitled to know even if they are not already aware of it.  You are pushing content out from the democratic process rather than responding to customer demand.

Having had a look at some of the wisdom around the web on why people share online content, and having had some initial conversations as part of the Scrutiny Bytes project, I think that there are three questions you have to answer if you want to find this point of public interest:

1. Who is it for?

Public is much too broad a term to use of course.  You need to design and target content at a specific group or groups.  This could mean residents in a particular area, parents, young people, teachers, social workers, you get the idea...  Answering this question is important because it sets you up nicely for the next one.

2. What is the motivation?

'What the public cares about' can be broken down into a number of sub issues.  One good way to get some insight here is to put on your own citizen's hat.  We are all citizens of course so think about what would motivate you to share, read or respond.  Four suggestions here:

  • It will directly affect you.  By which I mean a service is closing, a new facility is proposed for your area or a benefit is being changed.    
  • It will help you.  Useful knowledge such as a better way for you help your child with their reading, an easier way to get your residents parking permit or advice on home energy efficiency.     
  • It matters in your world.  Something that is newsworthy in your circle for example your neighbour's road safety campaign, a food inspection report on the local takeaway or recognition for your chess club's schools project.
  • You get a reward.  This could be a 'money off' deal or entry into a prize draw.  It might be recognition as in 'we will post the three best suggestions on our website'.  It might also be something useful to download or keep. 
This motivation is the hook that will make your content leap out from someone's timeline.  There is a lot of competition for people's attention so you need to get this right.

3. What will it achieve?

Finally you need to be clear about what you hope to achieve from people sharing, reading or responding.  Is it simply raised awareness you want or perhaps you are looking for feedback?  Either way your aims will limit or extend the amount of room you have to work in when looking at the Venn diagram, above.

Finding the point of public interest, the overlap between what the public care about and what the organisation hopes to achieve is not going to be easy.  But, if we want digital democracy to be a two way conversation, getting it right matters.

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