[ photo by Chad Hipolito / The Canadian Press ]

 3 insights for online engagers facing demanding crowds

Consider the following: Sludge, wastewater, and their unglamorous odours. Not very attractive realities, in all certainty; and surely ones that we all want to keep out of sight.

At Ethelo we were pleased to deploy our online problem-solving platform in a public mediation process. The aim was to bring additional structure and transparency to what has been a heated discussion in three municipalities deciding on a location for a wastewater treatment plant. Literally and metaphorically, the pressure has been building up for years now, as local citizens and governing bodies have yet to find a definitive solution that satisfies everyone’s interests. (The reader can imagine what happens when an escape valve opened up – in this case through online dialogue: the sludge hit our fan.)

Thankfully, some definitive steps have been taken, narrowing down on more viable locations while screening out those with low public acceptance. The end goal is to pragmatically resolve the diversity of needs of tax-payers, activists, and municipal administrators.

There is much to learn, however, before reaching a shore with still waters. If you are a public engagement moderator using online engagement tools, here are three pieces of advice you may want to consider when facing a demanding (and often upset) crowd.

  1. Take all the blows (but don’t take all of them personally). Gale Simpson, IAP2 leader and principal at Canadian Trainers Collective, rightly says that key to managing public rage is, quite, simply, allowing people to vent their frustrations and emotions, and to listen with sincerity. Your platform may well be a conduit for channeling frustrations, and that’s ok. However…
  2. Take (some) blows personally, and respond proactively. As a moderator using an online engagement platform, sometimes you won’t merely serve as the lightning rod: the lightening will be directed at you, period. Even if conflated with a heated situation, take the rage as an opportunity to learn, and incorporate public feedback into your improvement cycle. Participants are your best teachers in terms of what works in your engagement process, and what doesn’t. Taking note of their demands and making as many adjustments as you can, as fast as you can, is always good practice.
  3. Have relevant information at hand. While many participants want clarity and simplicity to be the hallmark of engagement platforms, some will want to dive deeper. Your online forum should be like an iceberg, displaying key information of a surface level, but always confident that there’s much more that meets the eye. The public will appreciate clarity, but also your readiness to address their questions; so keep it simple (but not simplistic!).

What has been your experience in similar situations?


– by Eduardo Sasso, Digital Engagement Optimizer at Ethelo Decisions