What is an Engagement & Consultation Platform?
An online engagement and consultation platform is an effective means of:
- delivering validated information
- encouraging dialogue to better understand that information
- providing a feedback channel for constituents to ask questions or provide feedback
- fostering a sense of community among constituents
- and providing value added tools services that can be mutually beneficial.
An example of additional engagement and consultation platform functionality might be:
- a fundraising tool
- a directory of useful links or addresses
- pertinent photos or files for download
- constituent matching to facilitate intra-community assistance
- store-front for the sale of relevant publications or services
- calendars and rsvp functionality to provide a means to invite and register attendees at community functions
- support desk for both technical or subject-matter support
In short, a good engagement and consultation platform has to be as flexible as you need it to be. It has to be sufficiently customizable to satisfy the needs of a federal agency with strict privacy concerns, meet the requirements of a company attempting to improve its environmental outreach, all the way to a grassroots community platform designed to engage youth, and everything in between.
What are the benefits of an Engagement & Consultation Platform?
The best engagement and consultation platforms are the ones that are truly and sincerely focussed on their users’ needs, not on the organizations that have created them. Users must be confident that the platform is there to help them, not the site owner. It is there to engage, to inform, to exchange; it is not there to solicit and any indication that it is spells the end of the platform.
This said, so long as the focus is on the user, the site owner does benefit. They benefit from the rich exchanges, from the potential loyalty, and from the knowledge that they are providing a useful service. Users also appreciate a site owner that is giving more than taking. It reflects well on the institution, company or brand.
Engagement & Consultation Platforms: what to expect
An engagement and consultation platform is usually a larger rather than a smaller project. This is not to say that one cannot create a specialized tool, quite the contrary, but in most cases, clients seek to have a comprehensive tool. On the lighter end, one can imagine a simple support desk tool, or perhaps a simple discussion forum. On the more complex end, one finds a multi-faceted tool with potentially hundred of thousands, or even millions, of users. The key is to develop a platform that is both appropriate and manageable. It must be appropriate in that it must deliver on the promise. But it must be manageable in that sustaining a platform does require effort and typically, platforms fail because its managers underestimated the effort required to keep it informative, current, safe, and otherwise a reason to keep coming back.
As for the range of actual services that RSI provides, it is able to conceive, construct, secure, and maintain the platform. It is also able to provide content creation or even content maintenance. In the first case, RSI simply populates a base of content, sufficient to warrant interest by the platform’s constituency. At the other end, RSI is able to provide ongoing content and interaction keeping the platform alive and well for as long as it is needed.
RSI's Engagement & Consultation Platform offer in greater detail
The listing at the top of this page, provided some insight into the possible components of an engagement and consultation platform ranging from a forum to an fundraising tool or a support desk. The point is that the engagement and consultation platform can be as detailed as desired. The trick is to find that happy place. The best way is to start with the core offer. What is the main thing you are hoping to achieve. If information is more important than exchange, then do not start with the forum, begin with the blog or newsletter. If the goal is to offer constituents a chance to interact with you, then the Q&A, FAQ and support desk should come first.
Then, once there is regular engagement and member growth, the platform can diversify its offering. Indeed, users appreciate novelty and it also spreads out the learning curve.
Design-wise, an engagement and consultation platform can be a stand-alone, even white label offering, or it can be an integral, transparent part of an existing website using the same design and url as the parent site. It all depends, as RSI likes to insist: on the goals. If the platform’s goal is to inform without any influence or bias, perhaps a more neutral approach is warranted. Though one must always be aware of the need for transparency. White label does not necessarily mean hidden. If the source of the information is a given company or organization, that must appear on the website.
What are the benefits of an Engagement & Consultation Platform?
There are many benefits to launching and maintaining an engagement and consultation platform. Indeed, it is an effective way to connect with a large number of users. In some cases, there is no other way. What about social networks you might ask. Though RSI does make selective use of social networks, it is important to delineate the differences between a social network and an engagement and consultation platform. Commercial social networks own the data. They also control who sees what when. They are also known for sharing data with commercial third parties. Instead, an engagement and consultation platform is a controlled space with strict security, privacy and moderation control.
What deliverables can you expect with an Engagement & Consultation Platform?
Coldly, the final result, or deliverable, is a web site, with a url, a security certificate, a database and a front end interface. It is hosted on either your server, an RSI server, or a third-party hosting service of your choosing. But is that all it is really?
From RSI’s standpoint, an engagement and consultation platform is an opportunity. It is a privileged conversation tool with a large group of trusting and interested users. For this reason, RSI insists that clients see an engagement and consultation platform as far more than a technological tool. It is a large agora where people come together to grow together. And in the context of risk, one can never lose sight of the fact that this platform can save lives. The obvious example is that of a suicide-prevention platform. Without a doubt, the goal of such a platform is to save lives. What about an engagement and consultation platform that helps veterans find work? Is that a life saving platform? All those who work in veteran affairs know full well that it is.
The point is that RSI hopes to impart on its clients, its own enthusiasm and respect for a the good an engagement tool engenders.
What is RSI's expertise in Engagement & Consultation Platforms?
RSI’s President launched one of the very earliest engagement and consultation platforms in the very early days of the World Wide Web in the early 1990’s. This United Nations agency (at the time it was not yet in the UN system) agreed to fund his vision of a platform that would connect potential migrants with those familiar with legal migration policies. The goal was to dissuade them from embarking on a dangerous illegal migration journey by providing them with credible information on the legal options. The platform included both a web component and a printed information periodical. Of note, RSI continues to believe in the added value of mixing media. Web plus print, or web plus radio, or web plus television… all are strong combinations.
Even though the internet of the early nineties was still sparsely inhabited, the platform was a success. Exchanges flourished and bonds were created. Throughout their careers, RSI staff have launched and managed several efforts ranging from a platform for women traveling solo, to an amateur radio community, and several public health initiatives. The World AIDS Campaign’s online presence was, early on, going to be a place for credible information and dialogue. Not a place to preach. Not a place to aggressively warn. It was about a joint journey.