Four Steps for Developing a Digital Engagement Tool

Our public agency clients are hard at work each day on important projects that keep our cities running. They’re juggling competing priorities and evaluating complex problems. Sometimes communicating the moving pieces that influence their decisions proves challenging. That’s where digital engagement tools come in.

Digital engagement tools allow users to interact with the information and gamify the decision-making process. Often, users can manipulate different factors and options in a way that reflects the complex decisions confronting policymakers.

Civic Edge has had the privilege of working with a number of public agencies to develop unique digital engagement tools, including:

  • In June 2013, the San Francisco Controller’s Office hired Civic Edge to assist the city team in developing an investment strategy and prioritized capital list of pedestrian safety projects. Civic Edge, in partnership with its subconsultants Fehr and Peers and lowercase productions, created a unique tool that combined quantitative and qualitative factors for determining a list of pedestrian safety projects for the WalkFirst initiative (see: http://walkfirst.sfplanning.org/index.php/home/participate).
  • In 2016, Civic Edge, in partnership with lowercase productions, supported the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in designing the unique digital tool “Build a Better Bay Area” as part of the agency’s community engagement efforts around Plan Bay Area 2040. The tool used simple survey-like questions to help participants understand the different alternatives under discussion.

Interested in making a unique tool? Here are some tips to get you started!

Identify the goal of your digital engagement tool

Before you can build a first-rate digital engagement tool, you need to understand what you’re looking to gain from it. What information do you want users to understand? What feedback are you looking to collect? Take time at the outset to make sure you’re asking the public for input you’ll actually use and that can actually influence your project.

Input Output

Members of the public are taking time to make an input, so you need to consider the output of their time on the app or site. Does a website show real-time results from participants? Do users see their responses and an aggregate of everyone else’s? Will users get an email back from the agency if they submitted feedback?

Hire the right designer

Picking the right team to design and develop the tool makes all the difference. Find a designer or firm with experience developing similar engagement tools. Make sure you and your designer think through the user experience, especially the language inside the tool. You want your content to be on message and seamlessly walk the user through using the tool.

Spread the word!

Developing a digital engagement tool isn’t cheap, so double-down on your investment with a smart outreach and promotion strategy. This can include email newsletters, social media posts, advertisements, and listings in local newspapers. Make sure to ask community organizations and political leaders to help get the word out to their communities, too.

We recognize digital engagement tools can feel daunting, but we promise you it’s worth it. Digital engagement tools often result in more participants, more usable data, and higher levels of engagement and understanding.