Learn how to design for inclusiveness and participation.
Reading time: 11 minutes
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Play 5: Select appropriate design format for public participation
Enable broad participation by offering responsive, accessible, intuitive, mobile-ready tools that can be rendered in multiple formats on a wide range of platforms.
- Identify critical and secondary requirements for program success.
- Determine paths for participation and their requirements, such as accessibility, commenting and annotation.
- Design for flexibility using current coding techniques such as HTML5 and CSS.
- Incorporate accessible graphics, color and visual techniques to improve engagement.
- Use analytics and feedback to diversify delivery methods, such as mobile.
- Adopt mobile-friendly capabilities such as responsive web design and link to mobile friendly pages.
- Communicate through channels like SMS, Interactive Voice Responses and Unstructured Supplementary Service Data for participants without wireless connectivity or access to the Internet.
- Continuously improve operations during the life of the project, and to focus on quality, efficiency and effectiveness of processes.
- The White House Engage website allows citizens to submit questions and comments, join online events, and engage with government via social media.
- USDA.gov underwent a major redesign to improve participant experience and usability. They used analytics and lessons learned from prior redesigns to determine popular content and participant preferences. This blog entry provides an overview of their redesign process.
- The NOAA Release Mako Mobile App allows fishermen to report their releases of Shortfin Mako sharks while in the water. The app uses a device’s built-in GPS to fill in exact location coordinates.
- The Victoria (Australia) Toolkit for Public Participation maintains a great selection of different PP formats.
- The Center for Land Use Education’s PDF guide, Crafting an Effective Plan for Public Participation, provides a framework for tailoring a plan that fits local needs and capacities.
Play 6: Design for inclusiveness
Whenever you’re running any sort of public engagement effort, make sure the design and setup are inclusive. Consider persons with disabilities who use screen readers, people with limited English proficiency or low literacy skills, and many others who may experience difficulty reading.
- Provide accessibility options for persons with disabilities, the aging population and others.
- Evaluate the need for multilingual support, including Spanish language services.
- Use Plain Language communication throughout the life cycle of the program.
- Consider both online and offline support, including a physical version and digital package.
- Analyze if participants can engage without a facilitator.
- Analyze if participants can contribute with ‘group input’ rather than individual sign-up, and if they can submit input from face-to-face workshops and other sources.
- Provide cultural competency support that values diversity reflected in the participant personas.
- Talk to underrepresented members of communities.
- Recognize common dynamics when cultures interact and develop adaptations to service delivery.
- Design for multiple learning styles.
- Recruit volunteers for visual note taking, or graphic facilitation.
- Provide contact information for official support and accessibility teams.
- Test your content for accessibility at all stages of development.
- Food and Drug Administration: Using Medicines Wisely: Increasing Access to Information for Women with Intellectual Disabilities. FDA’s Office of Women’s Health teamed up with the Administration for Community Living, the Association of University Centers on Disability, and the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to improve their safe medication materials for women. They conducted a series of focus groups with women in the disability community to learn how word choices, font, layout, and graphics could be improved.
- The Digital Communications Division (DCD) in HHS champions a 508 Program that leads the development and review of HHS Web content, social media, and supporting technologies. They also assembled a 508 Accessibility Lab with a collection of assistive and evaluative technologies.
- Disability.Gov is the U.S. federal government website for information on disability programs and services nationwide and is a model for accessibility on the web.
- Guide to Section 508 Standards. The U.S. Access Board’s Section 508 Standards apply to electronic and information technology procured by the federal government, including computer hardware and software, websites, phone systems, and copiers. Issued under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, these require access to such technologies for both members of the public and federal employees.
- Usability.Gov contains resources for agencies to evaluate their websites for both usability and accessibility.
- The Improving the Accessibility of Social Media in Government toolkit curates and share best practices to help agencies ensure their social media content is accessible everyone, including h disabilities. Efforts are also being made to work with social media platform and tool developers, citizens and partners to encourage greater accessibility.
- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security developed 508 Compliance Test Processes that provide instructions for testing the compliance of applications, Word documents, and PDF documents.
Play 7: Provide multi-tiered paths to participation
Good government is responsive and engaging. To ensure broad participation and involve more citizens in the decision-making process use a variety of channels to communicate and provide opportunities for different levels of engagement.
- Determine the level of participation your program needs to succeed.
- Empower stakeholders as decision makers and share information.
- Determine if you hold the resources to sustain a multi-tiered, two-way engagement strategy.
- Define what input you are looking for and what channels people are most likely to use.
- Notify employees of opportunities for participation and teach them how to respond if approached.
- The Army’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives Program established two citizen advisory boards that make project recommendations. The program holds quarterly public meetings with program leadership and maintains an outreach office that’s open to the public and receives in-person feedback.
- The U.S. Trade Representative’s traveling roadshow that gathers feedback on trade agreement negotiations from stakeholders: industry, small business, academia, labor unions, environmental groups, and consumer advocacy organizations.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration solicits multiple levels of participation through its Patient Network site. Participants can comment on proposed regulations and guidance, attend or speak at public meetings, and join an advisory committee to influence decisions like product approvals.
- The International Association for Public Participation publishes an IAP2 standards document that describes the various levels of public participation and examples of techniques.
Play 8: Provide effective and timely notifications
Throughout the life of an engagement effort, effective communication with participants and stakeholders is key. This play offers tips and advice for letting your audience know about opportunities to participate, and how to keep them engaged and active for the duration of the event.
- Develop a comprehensive outreach plan that includes timelines to reach different potential participants.
- Use a variety of channels such as the Federal Register, SMS, postal, email, flyers and social media.
- Provide a toolkit of materials, including an outline of timelines.
- Deliver consistent updates and repeat them across multiple platforms.
- The Union of Concerned Scientists released a scorecard on how agencies allow employees to communicate with the public. USGS received a B+, but updated its public documentation to address suggested improvements within four hours.
- Federal Student Aid’s #AskFAFSA campaign sets up monthly office hours for stakeholders to ask questions about student aid via Twitter. This is often faster than asking questions via telephone, and anyone following the hashtag can benefit from the answers. A recap of each session is posted the next day on Storify.
- DigitalGov Search seeks to provide immediate answers to the public’s search questions. In addition to Federal Register documents, it also incorporates results from other specialized government websites and social media accounts.
Play 9: Encourage community building through responsive outreach
Community development and outreach involves communication among community stakeholders, partner organizations, research centers, and government agencies. Goals include communicating reliable information about federal programs and policies, including addressing complaints; obtaining public feedback about the impact of government activities; fostering conversations and incorporating feedback into the policymaking process; and strengthening the channels of communication between communities, the government, and public/private sectors.
- Determine shared decision-making responsibilities for success, problem solving, and accountability.
- Develop a dialogue process that:
- Clearly defines guidelines.
- Prepares for variations in commitment to participation.
- Includes time to pause, evaluate input and evolve.
- Catalyzes the discussion if engagement stalls.
- Moderate and facilitate conversations to encourage connections and discussion of ideas.
- Create regular reports to summarize contributions so people can see what others are saying.
- Publish your programs’ points of contact for communities to access.
- Celebrate effectiveness and address critical feedback with participants.
- Continue the conversation and maintain relationships through regular and ongoing engagements such as regularly scheduled check-in meetings with stakeholders.
- Use the framework you created to develop future uses for the network.
- HHS Office on Women’s Health encouraged community organizations around the country to organize events in celebration of National Women’s Health Week 2014. They used the platform meetup.com so organizations could add their own events, and participants could search for other events in their area.
- FDA’s Office of Women’s Health launched the Pink Ribbon Sunday Mammography Awareness Program to educate African-American and Hispanic women about early detection of breast cancer through mammography. By partnering with churches and community organizations, they reached over 100,000 women throughout the country.
- U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Exchange Program fosters community engagement through the arts. The American Arts Incubator uses new media and/or mural arts as a means to engage youth, artists, and underserved communities in Asia and address local issues.
- NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge is an international collaboration focused on space exploration that takes place over 48 hours in cities around the world. Local communities create and lead events while the project is managed at the Agency level. City leads mobilize participation in their city, choosing challenges and models appropriate to local interests.
- Valley Forge National Historical Park transformed itself through civic input, as reported in “From Isolation to Integration”
- The National Park Service published two public participation guides, Beyond Outreach: A guide to engaging diverse communities. and Tribal and Public Consultation for Historic Preservation Toolkit
- Two Masters students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government looked at social media and its role in civic participation in both the U.S. and United Kingdom and published a report, Using Social Media to Enhance Civic Engagement in Federal Agencies.
Play 10: Protect citizen privacy
Public participation is crucial to our democracy, but federal agencies must engage in ways that protect privacy, while maintaining compliance with federal laws such as the Federal Records Act (FRA) and the Privacy Act.
- Identify what information your agency stores or maintains, and for how long.
- Publish privacy policies for all engagement channels so the public can see what information you collect, if any, and how your agency may use it.
- Consult with your agency’s Records Officer to determine how to manage digital interactions and public comments as federal records.
- Discuss your privacy policies, terms of service, and other charter documents with your agency’s Privacy Officer and/or legal experts.
- Establishing procedures for handling personally identifiable information (PII).
- Provide a medium for people to provide input anonymously.
- Use indirect means, like hashtags, to join conversations online instead of targeting individual users.
- The FEMA Privacy & Comment Policy comprehensively addresses how social media, web, mobile, and SMS data is used, stored, and managed. The policy is plain-language and concisely explains and justifies the retention and management of different data sets.
- CIO Council’s Privacy Best Practices for Social Media: This comprehensive guide provides resources and best practices for creating social media policies that are in compliance with the Privacy and Records Keeping Act.
- White House Expands Data Protection: There is no formal guidance on how agencies can use big data. However, this report and recommendation from the White House provides insight on how and when agencies may be able to use big data from the Internet of things, the web, mobile, and more, and whether agencies will be required to extend universal Privacy Act Protections.
METRICS: HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU SUCCESSFULLY DESIGN PARTICIPATION?
- Generate solid baseline data on how much your audience knows, and how well they responded to your message. This will help you determine whether public understanding of your message stayed the same or improved.
- Analyze whether the program becomes integrated with participants or owned by the community.
- Readership/visits/participation in channels, i.e. programs, sites and blogs.
- Awareness about the federal agency’s goals, mission, purpose, or resources.
- Public participation (survey responses, event attendance, other contributions, i.e. time and ideas).
- Volume of community organizations participating compared to previous programs.
- Size of community that your partners reach
- The role of public engagement in the planning/decision-making process.
- Variation in percentage between current overall participation and previous efforts
- Online engagement trends (e.g. comments and shares) over the entire length of the event.
- Engagement across each channel, independently, to determine the level of participation on each.
- For privacy protection, measure:
- Percentage of your programs, websites and social media sites contain provisions for protecting PII and maintaining Privacy Act compliance.
- Frequency that community managers monitor comments for PII.
- Volume of comments community managers delete for PII on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
- Frequency of agency record audits to ensure it is not maintaining broader records than necessary.
- For accessibility, start with guidelines in:
- W3C Web Accessibility Metrics, a detailed report on useful metrics to assess the accessibility level of websites, including the accessibility level of individual websites, or even large-scale surveys of the accessibility of many websites.
- Section 508 Checklist, including Pass/Fail criteria for each of the Section 508 standards (e.g. a text equivalent for every non-test element, functional electronic forms).
- US Access Board guidelines and standards to help meet accessibility and inclusion standards, including Communications and IT.