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How to create a culture that supports digital stakeholder engagement

New technology has transformed the way the public sector can engage with stakeholders. When you need to inform, consult or collaborate with individuals or organisations, you no longer have to rely on expensive or time-consuming techniques such as hard-copy surveys, face-to-face meetings, press adverts and interviews.

While these traditional methods are still valuable, taking stakeholder engagement online allows you to reach a larger audience, more cheaply and more often. If you read our free guide Transforming Stakeholder Engagement — Effective Digital Channels, you’ll see how cloud software allows you and your stakeholders to engage from any location, and in many different ways — from collaborating on projects to disseminating information via social media.

While digital channels can open new opportunities for stakeholder engagement, their success depends heavily on a supportive culture within your organisation. So if you plan to introduce digital stakeholder engagement to your organisation, or extend its use further, you will benefit from these tips for creating a supportive culture. They’re based on over a decade’s worth of experience helping the public sector use agile software to engage with others.

1. Put stakeholder needs and engagement outcomes first

There are many different tools and channels available to help you engage with stakeholders, but be careful to adopt solutions that put stakeholder needs first — rather than the convenience of your teams.

For example, if you need software that allows you to publish surveys online, your priorities might include:

  • Cost – a low price per user
  • Ease of administration – an intuitive interface for creating surveys
  • Ease of use – to cut staff training costs
  • Corporate templates – to create surveys under your brand

While all of these priorities are laudable, there are a further two priorities that are more important:

  • Ease of completion – stakeholders must be able to access and complete the published survey without special skills or training.
  • Analysis of outcomes – the software must make it simple for you to analyse collected data, otherwise it will become an obstacle to understanding the outcomes of your engagement.

Therefore, when choosing digital channels or tools, always put stakeholder needs and engagement outcomes first. If you don’t, you and your colleagues will find yourselves frustrated by poor results when you engage with others.

2. Create a clear stakeholder engagement strategy

Don’t incorporate digital tools and channels ad hoc into your general stakeholder engagement activities — create a clear stakeholder engagement strategy that incorporates both digital and traditional methods of engagement.

A clear strategy enables you to match the most appropriate digital channels to your work of informing, consulting and engaging with stakeholders. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a better idea of the software solutions you’ll need, helping you to choose the right tools for your work. You’ll also avoid wasting money on inadequate or overly complex software, which will in turn encourage staff buy-in and win their overall support for digital engagement methods.

If you need help mapping digital channels to stakeholder groups, take a look at the matrix in Transforming Stakeholder Engagement — Effective Digital Channels — it’ll help you compile a list of channels you need for your work.

3. Choose software approved for public sector use

When you engage with stakeholders, you frequently gather confidential data — and it’s your duty to keep it safe. It could spell disaster if a cloud software provider didn’t keep the data safe, damaging trust in your organisation, discouraging people and organisations from engaging with you, and damaging the culture of digital stakeholder engagement you are trying to build.

To prevent this from happening, choose software that — as a minimum — meets approved Government security standards. One way to make the due diligence work less onerous is by choosing software available on the UK Government’s G-Cloud CloudStore that has already been pan-government accredited.

4. Shortlist and trial stakeholder engagement software

If you are selecting a cloud solution such as an online collaboration package, be sure to shortlist the software that best meets your needs (and those of your stakeholders) — and then trial each one in turn.

Many software packages — particularly those available via the G-Cloud Cloudstore — offer free trials, allowing you to put them through their paces at no financial risk.

When you trial each solution, be sure to involve not only colleagues who will use the software, but management representatives as well. In this way you’ll win support and foster understanding across the whole organisation, leading to a smoother and more positive adoption of the new systems.

5. Provide training and mentoring

When colleagues become accustomed to familiar ways of working, they can become resistant to change. Unless you support them in the new ways of engaging stakeholders, you will encounter reluctance in using them.

Choosing easy-to-use software will help you go a long way to addressing this problem, but also be sure to provide support and mentoring where it’s needed. This will encourage adoption of the solution and can also generate new ideas and methods for engaging with stakeholders digitally — firmly embedding a culture of digital engagement among those responsible for reaching out to stakeholders.

These suggestions scratch the surface of creating a culture of digital collaboration in your organisation. For more advice and ideas, be sure to read our series of blog posts on Public Sector Stakeholder Engagement and get your free copy of Transforming Stakeholder Engagement — Effective Digital Channels.

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