Community Engagement Trends for 2018

There's no doubt 2018 is the beginning of some helpful new technological advances for the community engagement space. Whether you're looking for a way to better engage your community on project decisions or generally interested in what some of the new advances are, we have you covered. 

1. Open Data 

In this progressively digital age, open data and the availability of publicly accessible information is at the centre of a global technological and digital media shift. The Local Government sector is increasingly identifying the benefits of open data and its positive effect on decision-making and public participation. Open data and data transparency may help increase the community's trust in decision makers, improve project efficiency, demonstrate accountability and further engage the public across the local government sector.

Findings from the 4th Global Open Data Barometer report, show many local and federal government agencies are trending towards providing open, useful data for everyone. The report outlines principles of the Open Data Charter and the importance of data accessibility globally.

"Everyone should be able to access and use open data on an open web to allow them to participate fully in civic life. Without good data, it is impossible to hold governments to account for the decisions that they make, the policies they pass, and the money they budget and spend."

Many local and state government agencies in Australia and North America are providing up-to-date open data as a free online resource for use by the public. As part of their Smart City, Smart Council initiatives, Lake Macquarie City Council is providing local open data such as information about development applications and water quality and the location of community facilities and public toilets etc. "Sharing open data allows app developers, researchers and the community to access information to help make informed decisions, for scientific research, or to include in apps," says Lake Macquarie City Council, one of our most innovative clients. 

The benefits of open data can also be seen from a social enterprise and sustainable development perspective. Open data on natural resources, public facilities and services, and demographic information is a powerful resource for achieving the United Nations 17 global Sustainable Development Goals

2. Augmented reality

We predicted augmented reality to be one of the revolutionary digital trends of 2017, come 2018 and we don't think augmented reality is going anywhere anytime soon. The use of augmented reality on mobile phone devices provides engagement practitioners and organizations a way to research, collaborate and inform a community about a project - it's effective, interactive and most of all, a fun user experience. Mixed reality and merging software with the real world are predicted to be very big in 2018. AR is predicted to become mainstream much faster than Virtual Reality because it is more practical and accessible for people as it doesn't require purchasing a separate device such as a VR headset. 

Augmented reality and digital engagement technology have been proven to enhance planning outcomes by providing a more engaging experience for participatory planning projects.  

"The phone is probably going to be the mainstream consumer platform [where] a lot of these AR features become mainstream" - Mark Zuckerberg, TechCrunch 

At the moment, companies are still only testing the waters of augmented reality against other interactive video formats and experiences, yet the projection for AR revenue by 2020 is set to outweigh VR by $120 billion - SmartInsights.

Is your organization ready to take on augmented reality in 2018? Read our article about getting ready for augmented reality in projects

3. Chatbots / Virtual Assistants

'Chatbots' or software programmed to interact with humans by starting a conversational thread such as messaging apps, is not new technology. In fact, it has been used and embraced by the private sector for many years. While the public sector has been a little slower on the uptake of this technology, we believe it can be a great tool for government agencies to interact with their communities. Talking to a chatbot (which could be a combination of human or bot answering) is as easy as messaging a friend. This personal interaction and ease of use, provides a fast and accessible way for the public to interact, it can be a great way to reach people with varying levels of technical ability

Although there has been a slow increase in the use of Chatbots over the past few months, we still think 2018 is the year Chatbots will become a widely accepted form of online engagement within the private and public sector.

Why Chatbots? According to Forbes, the barrier to entry in terms of setup here is low. There are some free tools out there to help you get started, and you can obviously put some spend behind other tools for different user experiences. This decision will depend on your project and audience. Chatbots are a simple investment to help you quickly engage your audience and nurture a more personalized relationship that keeps them coming back. 

4. Platforms 

An online platform is a digital network to facilitate and exchange information between people for services, products and information. Platforms act as a facilitator for the crowd making interactions between an organization and its community simple and safe. It also acts as a digital 'hub' for the community to come back to read information, have their say, or see the progress of projects and decision-making in their area.

Over the past year, there has been a rise in platforms such as AirBnb, Uber and Amazon as well as the continual growth of Social Media platforms. As for 2018, we predict platforms specifically designed for civic engagement and public participation will offer large growth opportunities for all types of organizations, industries and sectors. 

5. Block Chain 

Blockchain is a distributed database which maintains a continuously growing list of data records or transactions that can only be changed when there is a consensus among the participant group. This makes the database more secure and improves transparency of the overall process. 

Technologists, business leaders, and government officials have been waiting for a better ‘system of organization’ for the planet’s most important information. As a result, there is a huge demand for a network-level overhaul, that can revolutionize the foundational building blocks of our growing international economy - Why the blockchain revolution will accelerate in 2018.

We've included Blockchain not just because it's on trend - but because it may also apply to community engagement. Sectors that have heavily adopted blockchain include; financial services, insurance and healthcare. In fact, 90 percent of major European and North American banks are now exploring distributed data blockchain solutions. Blockchain has provided organizations with the ability to conduct more secure participation and improve data transparency of the overall process. 

Within the next year, we are likely to see an increase in the number of entrepreneurs and investors putting in time, money and resources into this space. The next generation of startups will also inherit the benefits from Blockchain initiatives including stability, security benefits and the power to increase innovation. 

5. Traditional methods of Community Engagement are still important 

From our experience, community engagement is most successful when using a combination of both online and offline methods. However, for those wanting to put a spin on traditional methods, we suggest turning to using a combination of digital methods at your offline events. For example, you could bring augmented and virtual reality technology to a town hall meeting, or use a projected interactive map at a community meeting to showcase project plans or options. The options to bring digital technology to your offline events go as far as your imagination. 

Which 2018 community engagement trends do you think is the most notable? Do you think another trend is in the works? Let us know in the comments below. 

Want more? Find out if we were on track with our 2017 Engagement Trends predictions