Digital Community Engagement

When you talk about issues of access you are touching on something that effects the everyday citizen.

With this in mind I wondered how the digital space has changed access for people that want to do community work as well as those in certain communities. After all, the divide between the community and others is the gap we are trying to close.

With mobile phones increasingly being an avenue for access for most, its no surprise that many organisations and corporations have chosen to use this as a means to do social work.

The starting point for all of this is getting community members and volunteers to understand how their mobile devices can be used to help raise awareness for campaigns they may need assistance or funding for, as well as developing relationships to make this work sustainable over the long term.

Mobile engagement:

I read an interesting article which spoke about some of the best practices for mobile community engagement.

While the article is based on NGO’s in the United States, I found some take-aways that could also be applied at here in South Africa.

Firstly, the examples in the article revolved around campaigns that were used to raise awareness for a cause or to provide information for the people that the cause/issue might affect.

In this instance, a campaign refers to the way you use media, volunteers, and other means in an organised way to achieve a specific goal.

So it’s important to have a focused campaign or issue as the point of departure when starting a project like this.

Now, I know this might sound trivial, but I think sometimes the reason why some of these initiatives fail is because it covers a general “we want to do something for this community”, as opposed to being specific like refurbishing classrooms in an area or doing a river clean-up.

Next, the mobile campaigns relied heavily on community input which I think is easier in a place like the United States where more people are connected.

It might be imperative for us to hold workshops where volunteers can facilitate useful tips, tricks and uses for mobile phones to community members and how this will help with the work they want to do.

From here, they are able to a) build trust and relationships with the people they want to work within these communities and b) do projects that require the practical use of the skills being taught which gives this engagement an aspect of longevity.

I think that once you have these things down, the rest becomes somewhat easier.

Funding:

One of the main problem areas with social work usually is the funding. There just isn’t any!

Using digital avenues could be a way to help with this.

Social media, small events and partnering with other smaller media organisations for publicity is certainly one way to go as it is usually simple, relatively cost-free and will help attract a bigger audience toward your initiative.

If you have a campaign that is:

  • Focused
  • Has established relationships and the respect of the people you are working with
  • Has a proven track record of not just being a once-off thing (remember longevity)

Then it really becomes easier to invite sponsors to see what you are doing and how they can get involved.

Also, if you’ve already outlined the expectations and direction of the campaign, I think it’s easier to avoid instances where these organisations hijack the campaigns in order to make themselves look good (without actually having done anything).

The bottom line:

In my opinion, digital community engagement is something that is cost-effective and viable for most individuals and organisations.

It ultimately boils down to knowing what the focus of engagement is, as well as using the tools you have at your disposal in a creative way.

For my next post, I’ll be investigating into whether we have any successful local digital community engagement initiatives and what I think about them.

In the mean time, do let me know which ways you think we can improve the way we engage with our community in the comments below.

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