Using civic tech to connect digital to physical conversations is a big idea that is very tough to execute.
This week I’m heading to California to help the City of Santa Rosa use Granicus’ online discussion software (CivicIdeas) to connect their in-person engagement program to more citizens. Discussion Involving Neighborhood Engagement (DINE) consists of around ten simultaneous dinner table discussions where Santa Rosans will discuss questions of ethnic and cultural diversity.
This year Santa Rosa wants to use CivicIdeas to extend the discussion to people who are unable to attend the dinners. The idea is to host the discussion questions online a week prior to the event in order to give people a preview of the discussion topics before the event and a chance to get the conversation going early. For the night of the event itself, the goal is to do a sort of “live-tweeting” (via CivicIdeas) of one of the in-person discussions in order to share it with a larger group online. We also want to keep the online discussion open for a couple of weeks afterward in order to enable the participants to continue the conversation.
A possibly obvious question is, why not use Twitter to live-tweet the event? A possibly obvious answer is that we want to see how well Civicideas handles this type of use case! Also, live-tweeting an event via Twitter has a tendency to overwhelm your audience with a barrage of tweets that most of them may not be interested in. Live-tweeting via Twitter also requires a popular hashtag in order to be fully successful and I’m not aware of hashtag for such a specific topic as ethnic and cultural diversity in Santa Rosa, California. We could include some universal hashtag communities but it’s important to the City that this conversation focus on their population’s opinions.
One of the main challenges in this project is that Santa Rosa’s CivicIdeas site is still very young so it will be difficult to attract enough participants for a vibrant online discussion. Like with Twitter, it will be tough to keep from entirely dominating the discussion with live posts of comments from the in-person discussions. The advantage that CivicIdeas has over Twitter is that the discussion is entirely focused on a single topic so there is a far smaller chance of annoying our audience with irrelevant content.
The keys to success will be to invite interested people to the online discussion and move the conversation forward by offering links to next steps and additional resources.