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FCW Insider: Tips on keeping public comments civil (Part 2)

As I mentioned in a post yesterday, I have been thinking about the challenge agencies face if they post documents online for public comment and allow readers to read and respond to each other's comments. How do you keep the public engaged, civil and on point?

Yesterday, I shared some insights from Fraser Henderson, a consultant who teaches a course on eParticipation for the U.K. government. You can read his thoughts here.

Today, we hear from Kim Patrick Kobza, who is president and chief executive officer of Neighborhood America, which develops enterprise social software for business and government.

Kobza, by the way, has written a column on the role of public comments for FCW's Feb. 23 issue; you can read it here. He also recently wrote a piece, "The Importance of Citizen Based Network Transparency," for Steve Ressler's GovLoop blog, which I highly recommend.

Meanwhile, here are Kobza's tips:

* Properly set citizen expectations. What agencies can not do is to view these processes as mechanical – driven by technology -- but participative, driven by understanding and clear expectations as well as results. When a citizen understands how their inputs are considered, and when process is architected to provide referential choices, then the quality of comment is going to be much higher.

For instance, there is a big difference between saying to a constituency: “Tell us what you think” and promoting a richer sets of questions based on clear choices: For instance: (1) Do you agree with the choice? If so why? (2) Do you disagree, if so why? (3) Do you have any comments that would make the choice better if approved? (4) Do you have any other comments?

This stream focuses the citizen and again creates a more textured experience that builds social attention. In technical terms it is a paradigm of self-segmentation or self-selection, which is very effective in social networks.

* Moderate public comments. Think in terms of the three C's: Characterize, categorize and classify. Some comment is not relevant – that is, not truly within the definition of public comment -- but much is. Knowing how to apply the 3 C's is a key.

* Think in terms of getting results. The driver behind “thoughtful” citizen communication is the desire to make a difference and to be heard. It follows that it is important to project how public comment is to be considered, that it has been heard, and how specific comments or inputs might have been used. Absent response, preferably direct response, citizens on balance have very little motivation to be thoughtful. That is where you see the “smart mob” behaviors where citizens and organizations alike clamor to be the loudest instead of the best.

The bottom line is that the world tends to accept you on your own terms. Without these well defined frameworks, agencies will simply replicate free for alls that encourage bad behaviors and that discourage constructive behaviors.

I hope to have more on this topic soon.

Posted by John Stein Monroe on Feb 18, 2009 at 12:14 PM


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