What does follow-up mean in community engagement?

For the record: following up on an idea does not necessarily mean that it has to be implemented by your local government. Don’t be afraid to say “no” if a suggestion does not fit your strategy or budget. However, make sure to always share your reasoning with the community by replying openly on the platform. Community engagement is not about implementing every (popular) idea; it’s about engaging in dialogue with your residents and stakeholders on the ideas that can improve the community.

Tips on following up on community input

Here are some of the good practices that local governments in the CitizenLab community implement when following up on input from their community members:

  • Commit to giving official feedback. Make your community feel heard by replying to their ideas with your official city accounts. This may be difficult if there are a lot of ideas, but it’s not impossible. The Belgian city of Leuven proved it can be done, as long as there is sufficient political will. After collecting 2,331 ideas for their strategic multi-annual plan, city officials replied to 96% of these ideas over the course of one summer. Depending on the size of your team, it may not be feasible to reply to individual comments, but it’s a great way to build a dialogue and relationship with your community.
  • Align internally. Before the start of your project, align internally to decide who is responsible for organizing follow-up. Ensure that you can at least reply to the most popular ideas and show the community that you’re taking their views into account.
  • Make use of the available technology. The enormous benefit of a digital platform is the fact that technology can help you to process a large amount of data. The available technology will differ per platform, but at CitizenLab we work with Natural Language Processing (NLP). NLP technology clusters community members’ ideas and provides decision-makers with clear, concise insights on overarching trends. This technology helped the Youth4Climate movement group 1,700 ideas into a shortlist of 15 priorities on climate action, which the organizers could then share with politicians as policy suggestions.
  • Share decision-making. The most critical follow-up is, of course, sharing the actual results of your project. Many governments underestimate the importance of doing this, but sharing outcomes in an engaging way will inspire your community to come back and participate in future projects!

Make sure the results of your project are easily accessible, clearly state how community input informed your decision-making, and try to visualize the most significant policy actions taken by your city. By making this information more engaging and easy to comprehend, more of your residents and stakeholders will understand and remember the results. It makes them more likely to feel supportive of and connected to the policy decision.

Learn more best practices and guidelines for community engagement:

  • Guide: The steps you need to take to create a sustainable and effective community engagement strategy for your government agency.