Dealing with change

15 10 2010

The Gap logo buzz is an interesting case of the public’s reaction to change and the power of social media to comment on and derail corporate plans. Although Gap represents a private industry and profit-driven example, there is much to learn in terms of public communication and public participation. Read a couple of commentaries on how NOT to crowdsource and the basics of brand identity Gap appeared to miss.

Change is what we often brush up against in the process of public participation. Gap’s logo debacle reminds me that as P2 practitioners, we need to ask tough questions about why change, or a specific decision, is coming in order to  explain it to affected stakeholders. Awareness of why a change may occur is half the battle in communicating with the public.

The Gap example also demonstrates the need for clear process. Changing process midstream is tricky, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say it can’t be done, it needs to be done with utmost care. Gap appeared to be in a reactionary mode. There is a time and place for responding to comments and making adjustments; and in a social media, real-time environment there is no time to waste. However, it seems to me that they had multiple options for response and the option they chose was not fully vetted out.

Finally, this instance shows the power of public feedback in a social media environment. Again, the context of a private corporation may differ from P2 work, which generally supports public decision-making. However, the real-time, viral, retweet world we work in should be accounted for in public communication planning. To me, this goes to show that a social media plan needs to be in place for every project or agency. Not to do so leaves too much to chance!

P2 practitioners  must be nimble in responding to public reaction and should anticipate every possible response. Solid research provides a foundation that helps the project team or agency define a range of expected comments. There may be surprises, but good communication planning prepares a team for whatever comes its way!

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Crowdsourcing

25 05 2010

I am starting to see a growing number of discussions, uses and applications of crowdsourcing as it relates to public participation. I was first introduced to the concept by Daren Brabham, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on how crowdsourcing can be applied to non-profit problem solving. He examined for-profit sites like www.threadless.com to see what motivates people to participate and the social reward for participating. Daren was also involved in a pilot study applying crowdsourcing to bus stop design. The winner for the second design competition at www.nextstopdesign.com has recently been announced.

In the meantime, our friends in the northwest are applying crowdsourcing techniques to address sustainability issues and solicit citizen ideas to improve their city. Folks in the planning realm are finding crowdsourcing a compelling concept, including this firm dedicated to crowdsourced placemaking.

Crowdsourcing holds a lot of potential for active on-line communities. It relies on virtual communities brought together by an interest or topic. Without the virtual community, there is no compelling story to tell. However, the whole idea is to seek ideas from a multitude of people. The trick is to gain traction with a group of people who know you exist and facilitate this kind of problem-solving.

The beautiful thing about crowdsourcing is that not only do the ideas come from the “crowd,” but the solution can also be chosen by the crowd. You have immediate buy-in from a group of people who support a particular solution. Most government decision-making processes can’t fully turn over an idea to the populace, but there is still something to be learned here regarding the quality of input when people believe they are being listened to and truly making a difference in their lives and the lives of others.