A digital engagement framework adapted for local government

I’ve been doing a bit of research into citizen engagement models for my MSc research and started to think about how these models relate to digital engagement. I looked at various models and frameworks and combined them to help me conceptualise digital engagement.

Firstly I evaluated the participation model provided by David Wilcox in his 1994 participation framework, which was based on Sherry Arnstein’s ‘ladder of participation’ from 1969.

Wilcox’s participation levels

Arnstein ladder of participation

Arstein’s ladder of participation

I noticed some similarities with Charlene Li’s and Josh Bernoff’s ladder of Social Technograph profiles. The profiles are based on survey research into consumer participation in social technologies. The ladder was recently updated to include a category for Twitter users!

Social Technographs

The Groundswell site provides an interactive profiling tool which is based on demographic and behavioural data, to help companies define their commercial social technology strategies. However I think the tool has some transferable relevance for defining citizen participation profiles and assessing the propensity of certain age groups and genders to engage.

What would be really useful would be to overlay this behavioural data with the type of profile data that some local authorities have access to, either through OAC or Mosaic, along with other data layers, e.g. Council survey data, Place Survey data.

Li and Bernoff suggest various activities which the Social Technographs participate in. I have adapted these along the lines of Catherine Howe’s recent ‘long list’.

Lastly I thought about what type of roles might be involved at each level and drew inspiration from Steph Gray’s digital engagement roles. I have added other roles which are more relevant to local government, where communities are likely to play a more active role in engagement. Particularly where there are active hyperlocal sites in existence.

So, voilĂ ! An adapted digital engagement framework for communities and local government. It’s a first draft so any comments welcome.

Participation level Social Technograph type Activities Roles involved

You help others do what they want – perhaps within a framework of grants, advice and support provided by the resource holder.

Creators Publish and moderate a hyperlocal website/blog

Run social media surgeries

Upload a video or podcast you create

Write articles and post them

Community Manager

Digital mentor

Community Activist

Council Officer

Acting together

Not only do different interests decide together what is best, but they form a partnership to carry it out.

Creators Take part in online deliberations (in forums, web chat etc.) Social reporter

Community activist


Council Officer

Deciding together

You encourage others to provide some additional ideas and options, and join in deciding the best way forward.




Post ratings

Comment on a blog

Contribute to online forum

Contribute to/edit articles in a wiki

Vote on polls

Create a petition

Join social networking sites and enagement platforms

Use RSS feeds

Add tags to web pages or photos

Community member

Community Activist


Council Officer

Consultation – You offer a number of options and listen to the feedback you get. Critics



Post ratings

Comment on a blog

Contribute to online forum

Contribute to/edit articles in a wiki

Vote on deliberative polls

Sign an e-petition

Visit social networking sites and engagement platforms

Maintain profile on social networking site or engagement platform


Use RSS feeds

Add tags to web pages or photos

Community member

Council Officer


Information – The least you can do is tell people what is planned. Spectators Read blogs

Listen to podcasts

Watch videos from other users

Read online forums

Read comments/ratings

Read tweets

Community member

Council Officer


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  1. Thanks Michele – this is terrific. Added roles is really helpful. Already thinking how to bring this into the social by social game. It would be interesting to explore further the nature of the activities – what attitudes and skills are involved.

  2. Hi Michelle, really useful. I wonder if there’s another category which would be something between your bottom two rungs. Someone who might click a voting button or make an *occasional* comment if the barriers of registration aren’t too high.

    I think as David Suggests there is something about attitude-skill (as well as attitudes and skills). Recently, I heard of someone who stumbled at the first block – registration. To be fair, it was a slightly confusing situation, but at the same time if you really wanted to you would get past it.

  3. Hi Ingrid, I’m sure there are are nuances to the level of participation dependent on skill and attitude. After all the Social Technograph profiles are based on research into ‘consumer’ activity rather than ‘citizen’ activity. And you are right that registration can be a barrier to participation. Which is why I think Councils need to explore authentication services such as OpenID, for example, which would remove the barriers to registration but ensure that citizens are (in theory) accountable. People would then login using the same ID they use to collect email, use social networking sites etc. which is far more natural.

  4. Hi Michelle,

    This is excellent, it really helps my thinking.

    I’m currently thinking about Governance and how this is linked with participation – Some very early thoughts i had are here http://carlhaggerty.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/the-governance-ladder/

    What i am seeing is a link between the form and level of governance organisations apply, these can differ within organisations as well, and the level of at least the approach to participation.

    My view is that we would need to consider evaluating and adapting not just the participation structures but the supporting governance models to ensure that we can actually realise the benefits of these approaches.


  5. Hi Carl,

    I must have missed your post on governance so thanks for bringing it to my attention. I am also very interested in levels of governance that may or may not be appropriate for different types of engagement. I did an earlier post on governance in relation to a current project here: http://www.ide-smith.co.uk/?p=350. I am now imagining a huge matrix which includes skills and governance!

    There seems to be quite a bit of research going on at the moment to investigate local government approaches to engagement with communities via social media (e.g. Networked Neighbourhoods, Local 2.0, Public-i, IZWE). I am interested to see what comes out of that research relating to governance and participation levels.

  6. Michele,

    Very interesting. I know your focus is more on local government and (presumably) established political communities, but have you ever considered how frameworks like this might be useful in designing the governance system to begin with, either as a design element or in the process of design (historically, constitution-making?).

    Also, given the mentions of “governance” above, you might find something like http://www.amazon.com/Governing-Complex-Societies-Trajectories-Scenarios/dp/1403946604/ interesting.


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