We asked Public Consultation and Engagement experts the following question regarding the Impact of Social Media, and they were kind enough to share their insights with us:

How is social media influencing public opinion, and how far have public and private organizations reached in utilizing it towards strengthening their outreach?

MANITOBA CLEAN ENVIRONMENT COMMISSION

Chair,
Terry Sargeant
In the public sector, it is often the squeaky wheel, among the public, that gets the attention. And if they don’t, they are off to the media. If no complaints are heard it is assumed that all are happy.

Reaching the public with a well-constructed communication plan using plain language information goes much farther than technical, bureaucratic jargon or a bombardment of advertising. Plain language documents need not contain a great deal of details, but can instigate interest when they focus on the local concerns that may impact the individual. Even in this age of ubiquitous electronic communication, a phone call or a local meeting can go a long way. We find that the public needs to be treated as individuals with local concerns rather than just an advertising target.

WHITEFEATHER FOREST INITIATIVE OF PIKANGIKUM FIRST NATION

Senior Advisor,
Andrew J. Chapeskie
Non-indigenous resource-based companies could be doing more to engage “silent majorities” and, in the particular context of resource development, there is potential to lever strong cross-cultural relationships to facilitate decision-making especially in relation to those landscapes where indigenous communities form the majority of residents.

CRTC

Chief Consumer Officer and Executive Director, Consumer Affairs and Strategic Policy,
Barbara Motzney
Engaging the silent majority is really the “holy grail” for all of us. I cannot speak for Canadian companies, but the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has been engaging the public since its inception in the late 1960’s and we continue to adapt how we engage the public to ensure the voices of all interested stakeholders are reflected on the public record. By doing so, we are mitigating the risk of basing CRTC decisions on comments from the “squeaky wheels” and ensuring facts and evidence from a broad range of sources form the basis of CRTC policies and decisions that serve all Canadians.

CITY OF BELLEVILLE

Mayor,
Neil Ellis
With the introduction of social media and allowing politicians and staff in the public sector to be readily “accessible” and to be able to reach a wide range of citizens, has allowed the public sector to engage silent majorities. In order for the public to continue to have a real influence on decision making, the public/private sector needs to continue to provide avenues in which citizens can easily engage in the decision making process.

ENBRIDGE NORTHERN GATEWAY

Director of Public and Aboriginal Engagement,
Michele Perret
We attempt to provide as many opportunities as possible for people along the Northern Gateway Project’s right-of-way to have their voices heard. That means regular and continuing engagement. The public can have real and effective influence over decisions once they understand both the issue at hand and their interest in it – and have the ability to join the discussion in a very real way. Our engagement approach is designed to communicate broadly so that even those who are less inclined to participate have the chance to become more involved.

ICA ASSOCIATES

Professional Facilitator and Trainer,
Jo Nelson
Canadian companies and governments do very little to find the silent voices — they don’t know how, and some are afraid of these voices. What needs to be done is to explore strategies to involve people where they are (instead of inviting them to some event), involve them early before a decision is made with methods that ask for the wisdom that they have and that is needed, and following through to show how all of the ideas have been considered and weighed up.

CITY OF VANCOUVER (BC)

Spokesperson, Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force,
Lyndsay Poaps
More can always be done to widen the circles of engagement in any public process. Professionals in this field have the opportunity to demonstrate that when decision-making power is put in the hands of the public, decisions that support the common good can be reached. This in turn will foster trust and empowerment in communities. The skill and experience of public engagement professionals is needed to facilitate these processes.

ICA ASSOCIATES

Principal, Group Facilitator, and ToP Trainer,
John Miller, CPF, CTF, BA, MA
Probably. A company needs to connect with more customers. Companies have more ways to do that now.

There is a very long list of reforms required. Humans have governments in order to facilitate a degree of collective influence — especially “democratic” ones. To start with I’d say pick up the tools that already exist but have been set aside. Here are two:

    1. Citizens don’t bite. Government officials can do more than “inform” the public. The angry sounds that citizens make indicate there is wisdom underneath and a stifled vision for their community. With just a little courage, knowledge of group dynamics and humane processes, and the patience to listen and inquire …wisdom and consensus will emerge.
    2. Engage early in the process on the bigger, often more meaningful and contextual questions like values and vision.
  1. Elected officials need to re-inhabit their roles and rebel against being told what to think. They can sprout some ears, ask open-ended questions, convene deeper dialogue among their constituents, and thereby unearth a source of political legitimacy and power for themselves as a by-product.
  2. And just for fun, print up a bunch of t-shirts that say, “I’m a citizen not a consumer”.

MUNICIPALITY OF CLYDE RIVER (NU)

Mayor,
Jerry Natanine
Land claim agreements and treaties have to be lived up to by the government and the industry. The government has to realize that all the region of our country is part of our country for a reason and people are involved. Having to do more for the people is evident in that the communities are lacking in infrastructure. Resources and financial gain should not be enjoyed solely by the industry. It only makes sense that the communities should be empowered to take over and operate a project that is happening in their region.

Companies and government should be more transparent. CIBA should be published publicly so that all Canadians know what our country is benefitting from the impact. To hide such agreements is seen as crooked and secrecy does not go well in the eyes of the public. Any alternatives to such activities should be explored that may be less harmful to the ecosystem.

JACKSONVILLE COMMUNITY COUNCIL (FL)

President & CEO,
Ben Warner
I cannot speak to what Canadian companies are doing. But I will say to have the public have real influence over decisions, we need to allow the public to make decisions. Too often public engagement is used as a mask to ratify decisions already made – that’s not engagement, that’s marketing. There’s a place for marketing, but don’t confuse the two.

Continue reading expert insights on:

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  • How is social media influencing public opinion, and how far have public and private organizations reached in utilizing it towards strengthening their outreach? Read insights