Building a thriving community means fostering dialogue and ensuring its quality. The true value of moderation emerges not just in addressing challenges, but also in amplifying the positive outcomes of the engagement. Through effective moderation, we can create an environment ripe for inclusive dialogue, emphasize fact-based discussions, and lay the foundation for a trust-rich community.

Let’s have a look at some of the important elements to consider before, during, and at the end of a participation project.

Start by laying your foundation

1. Define engagement guidelines

Much like setting the rules before playing a game ensures fair play, defining the boundaries for online discussions is pivotal for constructive engagement. Every community engagement platform should have a clearly defined set of rules that are easily accessible. Here are some elements to include:

  1. Respect and civility: Emphasize the importance of treating all participants with respect. Ensure it’s clear that  personal attacks, harassment, and hate speech of any kind are not allowed.
  2. Relevance: Encourage participants to keep their contributions relevant to the topic or theme of discussion. This helps to maintain focus and reduce noise.
  3. No spam or promotion: Prohibit posts that are solely for the purpose of advertising, self-promotion, or spamming the platform.
  4. Source citing: Encourage participants to cite their sources when sharing data, statistics, or news. This adds credibility to discussions.
  5. Privacy respect: Emphasize the importance of not sharing private information, either their own or others’, without explicit consent.
  6. Constructive criticism: Encourage feedback, but insist it’s provided in a constructive manner. Unproductive criticism should be discouraged.
  7. Moderation policy and consequences: Clearly state that the platform will have active moderation. Outline potential consequences for guideline violations, whether it’s a warning, comment removal, or, in severe cases, being banned from the platform.

Once you have your guidelines locked down, you can add them in the ‘Terms and conditions’ section of your platform. If you want to give them a more prominent place, you can consider adding an ‘FAQs’ section or even weaving them into individual project pages to set clear expectations right from the get-go.

Example of ‘Netiquette’ guidelines on the City of Vienna’s engagement platform. The text was originally in German and this depiction is machine-translated.

2. Align internally on who does what

Just as a platform requires well-defined guidelines for participants, your engagement team should also establish a clear operational process and define roles. As the driving force behind these platforms, it’s up to you to ensure that user guidelines are consistently respected and upheld.

In addition, recognizing the commitment that moderation demands allows your team to strategically choose the most appropriate feedback tools and methods. Decide as a team when a contribution warrants an official update and when a straightforward status change suffices.

3. Think data-first

Crafting your registration process is more than just an administrative step—it’s a strategic decision with long-term implications for data analysis. If you opt for anonymous participation, for instance, it offers users a cloak of comfort, but it can limit the depth of insights you glean later.

Likewise, designing a registration process allows for specific data collection, but must be handled with finesse to respect privacy. Before launching a project, it’s pivotal to identify which data points are crucial for your post-project evaluation. Striking the right balance between data acquisition and participant trust ensures that your platform remains both insightful and inclusive from the outset.

During the project: monitor and manage

1. Give regular updates

As projects progress, regularly send updates to your residents to ensure they remain in the loop and keep the engagement going. Consider leveraging in-platform features such as replying to participant contributions, sending out newsletters or targeted emails detailing recent developments, and posting updates on social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram. Don’t forget to tailor the mode and tone of communication to the preferences and habits of your community!

Go Vocal offers tailored tools for effective interaction with participants and smooth internal communication. With the built-in statuses, you stay aligned as a team on community feedback, ensuring there’s no overlap or missed contributions. More importantly, these statuses reassure participants that their input is not just floating in a void, but is acknowledged and valued.

Moreover, Go Vocal's Input Manager streamlines your feedback process. It allows you to delegate contributions to colleagues, empowering them to craft a fitting response. While the platform offers flexibility in when to use an official reply, it’s highly encouraged in scenarios such as the rejection of an idea with a clear rationale or when an idea genuinely intrigues the team and warrants serious consideration.

Not sure how to react to a contribution? With our internal commenting feature – currently in beta – you can ask a colleague what they think directly on the platform and work together on a fitting response.

2. Nurture genuine conversations, intervene with purpose

Given our exposure to social media and the prevalence of trolling and hate speech on such platforms, it’s natural to harbor concerns about discussions spiraling into negative territories. However, it’s reassuring to note that discussions on community engagement platforms differ vastly from the social media environment.

Looking at the data from our participation platforms, we know a mere 0.4 % of ideas were reported as spam, while only slightly above 1% of comments required deletion by local government staff. This is a strong testament to the positive nature of conversations, as 99.6% of ideas shared are authentic and 98.8% of all comments prove valuable.

In case a conversation on your platform risks deviating or even becoming problematic, you should fall back on the guidelines you set out earlier. As an engagement team, it’s essential to define the repercussions for inappropriate behavior. Agree on clear rules for when to issue a warning, delete a post, and temporarily block – or even delete – a user.

As democracy champions, we want to stress that the latter two actions should only be employed as a very last resort and should not become the norm. Upholding these principles is vital in maintaining a democratic space where all voices are heard and respected.

Project wrap-up

1. Close the feedback loop by sharing the results and next steps

A project’s end is just as significant as its beginning. Ensuring every voice has been heard and acknowledged not only sets the stage for future engagement but also highlights the importance of continuous communication. Whether it’s by unveiling insights in a results phase or updating the project description, the act of acknowledgment carries profound significance.

Moreover, taking advantage of integrated tools within the platform can further enhance this. Sending emails and sharing updates on social media channels, such as Facebook and Instagram, reinforces this acknowledgment and ensures the community remains engaged and informed.

2. Consider a short survey to learn how you can improve

Gathering feedback through satisfaction surveys can offer a goldmine of insights for future initiatives. Every project teaches you something new. By taking a moment to reflect, you can better understand what went right and what could be enhanced, ensuring the next engagement is even more fruitful.

Thoughtful engagement cultivates connections

Platforms like Go Vocal empower your community to have their voice heard, but it’s the thoughtful moderation and commitment of the team behind the scenes that truly elevate these conversations. By strategically planning, respecting user contributions, and adapting as you learn, you’ll create a space for vibrant discussions and fortify trust and understanding.