In our recent post looking at Communication tools for stakeholder engagement, we discovered there was a top-line benefit to integrating digital channels into a public sector stakeholder engagement strategy.
“…by using the right combination of digital channels, the public sector can undertake meaningful stakeholder engagement while taking advantage of mass media opportunities for minimal cost and maximum exposure.”
In other words, you can use digital channels to achieve more (and do it better) for less.
It’s not hard to see that free or cost-efficient tools like online surveys, blog pages, discussion forums, social media and fully-fledged online collaboration platforms deliver savings over traditional methods of stakeholder engagement, such as paper questionnaires, consultation meetings and street surveys.
But perhaps the biggest benefits of digital channels are the ones that deliver innovation, productivity and new ways of successfully engaging your stakeholders (while saving you money in further ways). In this post we’re going to take a closer look at five of them.
Benefit 1: You enjoy more opportunities for stakeholder engagement
Traditional methods of engaging stakeholders are expensive. When you use them, you have to weigh up the cost of engagement with the benefits they may bring. For example, if you rely on methods such as press adverts, flyers, letters and hard-copy questionnaires to reach your stakeholders, consultations with all but the smallest numbers of people will cost a significant amount of money — and eat up a lot of officer time.
By opting for digital tools like online surveys, RSS feeds, web updates and wikis, you can reach large numbers of stakeholders quickly and cheaply. This allows you to bring stakeholders together on a more frequent basis to contribute to policy, projects and initiatives at an early stage – something that may have been prohibitively costly beforehand.
Benefit 2: You cut travel costs and increase productivity
Face-to-face meetings are helpful for stakeholder engagement, especially when you need to collaborate. The problem is that they’re costly, hard to arrange and time consuming.
Thanks to solutions like online collaboration software, you can share information, track projects and invite responses from any stakeholder with a PC or mobile device. This allows you to cut the number of meetings needed, reduce travel costs, break down geographical barriers, get faster responses and give stakeholders the tools to contribute between meetings, resulting in a faster pace of work.
Consultations are improved because busy stakeholders can contribute in their own time, not just at sessions held in office hours or at distant venues.
Benefit 3: You widen your stakeholder base
Traditional methods of stakeholder engagement can be limiting. There is usually an upper limit to the number of people you can inform or consult, simply due to the expense of sending out paper documents or holding face-to-face sessions (these are often restricted by the number of people you can fit in a room).
Digital channels allow you to widen your consultation base. Because information can be shared easily, you can quickly reach more stakeholders than the normal ‘famous few’ who traditionally have become the mainstay of many consultations.
Additionally, allowing stakeholders to contribute online will attract many more people who might feel uncomfortable about speaking at meetings or coming to meet officers face to face. It’s also much easier to engage with the traditionally hard to reach, including young people, people with disabilities and those who have busy lives.
In these ways you can bring vital, extra viewpoints to the engagement process.
Benefit 4: You improve transparency and accountability
If you use an online collaboration platform to engage stakeholders, you have a full audit trail of all activity, and can easily publish documents and responses for any audience of stakeholders. An audit trail can also make responses to Freedom of Information requests cheaper and simpler to fulfil – every item of information regarding a project is kept within one workspace. This, combined with widened participation, increases both transparency and accountability.
Another major benefit of an audit trail is the way in which you build a coherent and solid evidence base on which decisions can be made and justified.
Benefit 5: Meet stakeholders’ expectations
Growing numbers of stakeholders now expect the public sector to engage with them digitally — sending blanket emails, or simply providing an email address or feedback form isn’t enough.
It’s your responsibility to make it easy for stakeholders to have their say about issues they care about, and providing a proper online platform for engagement speaks volumes about your organisation and your brand values — it sends a clear signal that you truly value stakeholder involvement and are engaging because you want to, not because you have to.
In our next post, we’ll be looking at examples of public sector digital engagement in action. If you’d like to learn more now, download our guide Transforming Public Sector Stakeholder Engagement.