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Increased citizen engagement possible on local government's social media

Thursday 3 February 2022 2:44pm

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A new University of Otago-led study says that local councils could have higher social media engagement by posting content that invites interaction.

The study, Citizen engagement on local government Facebook pages: Experience from Aotearoa New Zealand, is the first of its kind in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Using Dunedin City Council (DCC) and Otago Regional Council (ORC) data from 2019, the study examined how local governments use Facebook pages to communicate with citizens and how citizens engaged with these pages.

Lead-investigator, Dr Ashraful Alam (Geography), says the ORC and the DCC respectively made a total of 420 and 267 posts throughout 2019.

Ashraful Alam image
Dr Alam

The posts primarily ‘informed’ followers of various council-identified issues via ‘passive’ posts, and there were relatively few ‘active’ posts, which “hold greater potential for meaningful engagement.”

More than 90 per cent of all ORC (401) and DCC (252) posts were passive.

Only six per cent of the DCC and five per cent of ORC posts created opportunities for a ‘consultative’ engagement that invited user feedback. Neither of the councils provided any opportunity for user-generated content and there was a relative absence of te reo Māori use and minority languages.

Engagement is vital for councils to inform bottom-up urban planning and development decision making, Dr Alam says

“Good citizen engagement tools promote participatory decision-making where citizens can deliberate over issues affecting their future. In general, the inclusion of the public in decision making has been perceived as resource-intensive and costly but the rapid adoption of social media technologies has created a fundamental shift in the way civic engagement takes place.”

To promote inclusive social media, the study recommends councils:

• Invite citizens to co-create content rather than only responding to council-created content.
• Employ double-loop strategies for content-creation to sustain followers’ interest and reduce superficial interaction with posts.
• Promote a mix of active and passive posts to increase engagement.
• Include multilingual posts to encourage citizen engagement and retain followers.

Dr Alam says the council’s and community’s technology readiness is defined by community’s access to quality internet services and smart devices in the local government jurisdictions, as well as community’s interest in the type of social media use shapes the e-participation landscape.

Dr Alam’s co-contributors were Francisco Barraza and Katie Knopp (School of Geography, University of Otago); Mahbubur Meenar (Department of Geography, Planning, and Sustainability, School of Earth and Environment, Rowan University, Glassboro, US) and Momtaj Bintay Khalil (Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney, Australia).

The full paper can be downloaded for free via this link until March 12: