Experience tells us, the longer a document, the more important it is to give participants the option to become the author of their own experience.
When reading their favorite novel, people may pour a glass of wine, get comfortable in bed, and spend hours of their time without engaging in other activities - and they rarely leave early once they’re past the first 20 pages.
Yet it would be unwise to assume anyone has prepared themselves to spend 1-2 hours to engage online with a planning document. Time expectations likely vary, from a short 5-minute summary video, to a 10-minute survey, to possibly 20 minutes of reading sections of a plan they are interested in commenting on - but rarely longer.
How can you convey the same amount of information online and collect informed feedback in a condensed time frame? How can you set time commitment expectations up front and devise clever ways to maintain visitors’ interest in your document engagement goals?
Document engagement is at the core of Konveio, and here we have compiled some lessons from other fields that can be applied to how to best structure content in ways that drive online engagement.
Some of you may remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series of books from childhood. Every story was written from a second-person point of view, with the reader assuming the role of the protagonist, making choices that determine the main character's actions and the plot's outcome.
You can take a cue from this form of storytelling by breaking out topics in ways that enable visitors to dive into their specific areas of interest first and then continue their journey from there. This will allow participants to become the author of their own experiences.
This is how the City of San Francisco used a Konveio Site to engage stakeholders as part of their Housing Element 2022 Update. They grouped key ideas into five categories so visitors can quickly give feedback on the topics that interest them. Once a visitor clicks on a topic, they can explore it in more detail, or move on to the next one. The home page opens with a short one-minute video that grabs the viewer’s attention and explains why their participation is important for the Housing Element update.
Visitors are not forced to sit through an entire presentation or read through lengthy information that is not relevant to them. They can choose to jump to the part of the story that captures their interest.
In our work, we found the 80/20 rule roughly applies to document engagement - we can assume that 20% of your audience is interested in spending time diving deeply into the details while the remaining 80% prefer to read the summary of key findings or policy ideas first, and then go from there. To best serve both audiences, we recommend presenting the cliff notes of your topics before leaving them in the deep end of long-form details without any way to navigate efficiently.
Take a moment and pretend you are a museum curator or exhibit designer and the different aspects of your project are the “artwork”. How would you design the experience to make the information interesting and engaging? Reflect on past experiences as a visitor. Our guess is that on your last experience in a large museum for the first time, you learned about a few items in-depth that grabbed your attention while exploring far more of them peripherally. Give your website visitors options like a museum visitor. Make each topic visible at a glance by presenting short descriptions and equipping them with opportunities to navigate deeper into the additional materials where they’re interested.
Example: The City of Madison, WI has leveraged Konveio throughout each major phase of its comprehensive plan’s lifecycle. Now in the implementation tracking phase, they’ve added Konveio’s summary feature to blend their executive summary with the detailed plan, allowing visitors to quickly traverse between high-level introductions and detailed information based on their interests.
A fundamental aspect of writing in plain language is to use easily understood words. While simple, it isn’t always easy. Especially when drafting complex or legally guiding documents that must cater to a public audience.
Here are three excerpts from the official website for the federal plain language act of 2010 which highlight a conundrum all planners face when writing complex documents:
Think about a zoning code for a moment. If each page or section needed to define all unique terms or acronyms, it could have unintended consequences and turn a 600-page document into an 800-page document. We also know that very few will reach for your carefully crafted appendix over Google’s search engine to understand acronyms and jargon.
So how does one define terms in a realistic, user-friendly manner without adding length and clutter? We can list some ideas and would love to hear yours, but we only know of one solution that truly does the trick perfectly.
Konveio allows you to add your own definitions of words, acronyms, and phrases that appear only if a visitor hovers or clicks the word. Readers will learn that a word has a definition available as it will be underlined with dashes. Adding a custom glossary is easy, create a two-column CSV file with jargon words in one column and their definition in the other, and upload it to Konveio.
You may have spent a year (or more) preparing your project for stakeholder review. You know the materials and background information like the back of your hand. Unfortunately, many of the resources you’ve created won’t fit into the PDF format - think static pixelated maps or a 3D flythrough that ends up in your final report as a simple screenshot.
Balancing approachability with TL;DR
For large projects, there might already be recorded meetings or presentations, 3d animations from architects, ArcGIS Maps, and more. The more the merrier, but opening everything up front would create an overwhelming mess of browser tabs that your audience will get lost in. Plus, if *everything* is presented as a long list of links, it can feel too arduous for stakeholders to even start exploring any material at all. It may even be taken as a sign that they aren’t meant to participate at all.
Get an early “yes.”
One way to drive participation is to get someone invested by taking action as soon as possible, no matter how innocuous or insignificant. And to do so, you’ll want to simplify a visitor's initial experience, leaving them with a simple path to participation. The most obvious improvement to simplicity is to put everything they need in plain sight, eliminating the need to download the materials and open separate tabs just to get started.
Less is more. The trick is to curate additional resources (videos/maps) in such a way that it matches the flow of your official document or online resource, by revealing external resources once that topic is the focus. Now, your resources will be curated alongside the topic they’re most relevant to and seen as helpful rather than daunting.
As previously noted, your website visitors probably have limited time to engage with your content. Instead of leaving them to guess how long a particular activity will take, why not put that information right up front? This way, online participants may choose what to engage with based on how much time they have rather than by topic.
For example, you may notice that many online articles now include an estimated time to read the article right at the top. This helps a reader decide if they want to jump in now, skim it, or save it for later.
Another example is national park visitor guides that provide a list of suggested activities based on how much time visitors have. We can add this kind of information to all materials on our website to make it easy for visitors to pick and choose what they want to engage with now, or set aside time to engage with later.
Peachtree City, GA was one of the ten communities to be awarded a Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) in 2019. Peachtree City was embarking on a year-long process that includes extensive community outreach as part of their LCI Planning Project. They used a Konveio site to ask the public to provide feedback on different development scenarios. The website includes a list of five activities with the estimated time it will take to complete them. There is also a short video that explains how to use the website.
Without limits on time or space, online engagement gives us the opportunity to reimagine the experience of a traditional draft review at city hall or an in-person meeting rather than just trying to recreate it. Konveio makes it easy and even fun to engage with your content so you increase the likelihood of more people taking the time to go through it.
“Overall, I think that it’s more likely that residents will encounter and consider more viewpoints with Konveio than if they attended a public workshop because it’s on their own time and they have more opportunities and touchpoints.
Konveio helped to bring the plan a little bit more alive, and I don’t think people would have read it as closely if they didn’t have an opportunity to comment anywhere on the document.”
We’ve only scratched the surface of Document Engagement! Collaboration and feedback are just as integral to Konveio’s platform as information sharing and interactivity. Learn more about collaboration and feedback.
Contact us today and let us help you make your document engaging to your audience.