This is part of the open Q&A on online engagement that I launched to prepare for the Policy-Making 2.0 conference. Hope to see you there!


When it comes to online engagement on public policy, one common mistake is to expect co-creation of policies from scratch.

In reality, collaborative creation “wiki-style” is the hardest to achieve. The transaction costs are very high, to enable many people to work together on a text. You simply spend a lot of time discussing and explaining. This is not fun and people are discouraged to take part. Moreover, writing a self-contained good piece of content is hard work.

It is much more suitable to design lighter forms of engagement, and more structured. We consider three phases of online collaboration: brainstorming, drafting, reviewing. The actual drafting part is very hard to do in an open way. It is easier and more effective to stimulate public engagement in the initial brainstorming phase, where people can submit short ideas, simple to create. This is often very effective to reach out to collective intelligence by asking information and ideas that is already there, at the “fingertips” of participants. In this phase, tools such as Uservoice and Ideascale are typically best, because they let anyone contribute ideas and vote on other people ideas. Unfortunately, research shows that voting is not an effective system to let innovative ideas emerge… but that’s another story.

The actual drafting of structured documents (based on this brainstorming phase) is far easier to implement through a small group.

This restricted drafting should be followed by an open commenting phase through tools such as co-ment. It’s easier and effective to have participants to comment on a prepared text, rather than create one from scratch. Also, comments tend to be very valuable and high-quality here because the full context is provided.

This need for lighter forms of engagement is also reflected in the fact that wikis have not become hugely popular, while blogs have.

This process (open brainstorming, closed drafting and open commenting) is what worked in the  Open Declaration on EU Public Services. It is also the way OpenIdeo is designed: the initial inspiration/brainstorming phase and the “clapping” phase are those with greater public engagement.

So, if you want to engage citizens in policy-making, design simple processes that do not require extensive collaborative drafting but rather exploit collective intelligence in the brainstorming and reviewing phase.