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How Governments and Councils Can Use Community Engagement Portals

Date Posted: Wednesday, 20 August 2014 22:46
Posted By: Kerry Butters

In a recent post we talked about community engagement portals and their benefits to organisations. Taking this a step further today, we’ll be taking a look at how these can be utilised by governments and councils to help connect with the wider, local community.

In many cities local councils use community portals to use with their residents. They can be used in a variety of ways, for example connecting with people regarding:

  • Community housing
  • Local taxes
  • Environmental health issues
  • Local concerns surrounding the cleanliness of beaches, division of land, planning and more

This is not an exhaustive list. Done properly, a community portal allows local authorities to better connect with members and discover what’s important to them. So for example, say that a local land reserve has become available and there’s some controversy over what should be done with it. Should it be used for sports, or an area in which the locals can use for other leisure purposes such as walking the dog?

There will of course always be advocates for one choice but not the other, as well as those who don’t mind both. The portal can be used to both facilitate and monitor discussion surrounding these areas in order to reach a compromise in which everyone is happy.

Community

Of course, just as with internal company portals, it’s necessary for local councils to ensure that the community are engaging with the platform in order for it to be successful.

Advertising a Portal?

This does mean that there will be a level of investment into the portal itself and marketing it to the local residents so that they know it exists. This can be carried out effectively through local media outlets and it’s also a good idea to contact residents directly at their homes (eg via a good leaflet and poster campaign).

In general, people not only want to be involved in where they live and the decisions that are made, but they also enjoy convenience in the modern connected world. The ability to make payments online is something that we’re all very much accustomed to now but it’s something that local councils have only introduced in recent years.

It’s making payments online that will lead some sections of the community to look more closely at the site and if they find useful information there then they will engage.

In Australia, local councils are responsible for:

  • Street signs
  • Sports grounds
  • Rubbish and waste collection
  • Building permits
  • Collection of taxes/rates
  • Traffic control
  • Animal control
  • Drains and footpaths
  • Swimming pools

So say a resident had noticed that a local footpath was dangerously damaged and could cause injury. Rather than go directly to the council and spend time waiting to see the relevant person, then go through filling in forms and suchlike, the resident just pops online and reports it. Simple, effective and puts less strain on valuable resources saving the council, and in turn the tax payer, cash in the long term.

It’s easy to see how community portals can help governments and residents save money and gain a better understanding of each other. For the resident, it can also be instructive in the processes that local authorities have to take before they can take action on something that affects the wider community.

In order to work effectively, a good portal should contain a wealth of information for residents to access as well as areas in which the public can get involved and engage.

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