What influences the success of an online consultation: What to know!

This article explains three factors that influence the number of participants in an online consultation.

First, to define the success of your consultation, it is essential to define an objective to be reached in order to be able to measure whether or not it has been achieved. This exercise will allow you, among other things, to manage the expectations of the decision makers in your organization:

  • Should we expect to double, triple, or quintuple the number of people who usually attend consultations? For example, in our experience, our clients have 5 to 10 times more participants online than when they only have face-to-face meetings.
  • What total percentage of the population will participate? This is rarely calculated since a consultation usually affects a segment of the population or a portion of the territory, such as a neighbourhood. Stick to identifying an ideal number of participants.

There are three key factors that influence the number of participants in an online consultation: the topic of your consultation, the relationship you have with your community, and the communication tools you will put in place to publicize your consultation. Each of these elements is important in helping you identify your participation goals.

Be careful! Your objective should be different for each of your consultations.


The subject of your consultation

It's a fact: more complex or strategic topics attract fewer participants than everyday topics. This is also the case online! A consultation about a strategic plan or a master plan will always have fewer participants than a consultation about a park, water bodies or a vacant lot. This is not to say that it is less successful.

Controversy around an issue is also an important element that will influence the number of participants. Controversial topics, which often have good coverage on social media, will tend to attract more participants. 

The topic of your consultation is one of the most important factors to consider when identifying your objective. It is also a variable factor from one consultation to another. 

The relation with your community

The relationship you already have with your community is a factor that influences the level of online participation. If your organization already consults regularly with its community, maintains multiple channels of communication with the community and has an open relationship, online participation rates will be higher. It is therefore important not to compare your number of participants with, for example, another municipality of the same size.

The relationship with the community can also be different from one topic to another. For example, if you already have community partners for a project, they are part of your network and will help spread the word about your consultation. 

Achieving your goals depends on the relationship you have with your community over the years. Take this into account when managing your online participation platform and defining your success.

Communications Tools

A communication plan, even a simple one, is necessary for each of your consultations because the tools to be used to publicize your consultation will be different depending on the audience you are trying to reach. Without this short document, you risk forgetting some important actions and you will feel the impact on the number of participants.

There are many ways to get the word out about your consultation. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, etc. are almost a reflex because the participation platform is a technology tool. Also consider embedding:

  • E-mail marketing campaigns (newsletter)
  • Traditional advertising techniques (newspaper ads, mailings of flyers)
  • On-site signage where appropriate (billboards, standing flags and posters)

The important thing is to find the tool or tools that work for you and that you can reach your community with. A mix of media is often the key to success!

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