Sometimes it can seem like the process of community engagement can have a very specific and one-dimensional function. It usually goes something like this; engage a bunch of people on a particular topic, get their input, make the decision and move on. Then the next project comes along, so you repeat the process. Meanwhile someone else from another part of the organisation is doing the same, often involving the same community members in their process.

While this approach can work for the specific project at hand, it’s inefficient at an organisational level, leads to ‘consultation fatigue’ among the community and really isn’t making the most out of the important relationships you have with your stakeholders.

By establishing an online community panel, you can develop an on-going two-way dialogue with your community over time. They get to know what you’re planning and how you make decisions, and can get involved in the decisions that most interest or affect them without being over-contacted by your organisation. You get to know your panellists and their needs, and can coordinate the activities that involve the panel, to minimise duplication. The organisation makes more informed, transparent decisions, which builds trust and confidence.

There are many benefits of an online community panel – both to panel members and your organisation. Here’s seven of them:

  1. gives a recognised and consistent means for the community to participate in decisions, and allows people to get involved quickly and easily, with a low barrier to participation
  2. demonstrates an openness and willingness to involve the community, stakeholders, residents and customers in the organisation’s decisions, and build relationships over time
  3. increases public awareness and understanding of the organisation, its services, processes plans and decisions
  4. provides a simple mechanism for the organisation to ‘close the loop’, show the community that you actively listen and demonstrate the extent to which public opinions have shaped decisions
  5. gives the community increased trust confidence in the organisation’s decision-making over time (provided the organisation does genuinely listen and provides balanced information on how it is using public input to make decisions…)
  6. acts as a catalyst for broad organisational collaboration and coordination between the various teams (i.e. a central hub) to increase efficiency and minimise duplication and fatigue
  7. makes it easy to publicise and recruit people for other consultation/engagement/research opportunities e.g. co-design processes, workshops, events, forums, open days, interviews, and specific media campaigns etc.

Check out more about online community panels here.