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Technology and Community Engagement

Posted on November 27, 2015
By Louise Merlihan

Fifteen years ago, there was no easy way for large sections of the community to share their opinion without calling a meeting, voting, or going door-to-door. The terms "social media" or "smartphone" weren't part of our vernacular, largely because they didn't yet exist. The first Blackberry smartphone was introduced to the market in 2003 and the first iPhone was released in 2007. Facebook was launched in a college dorm room in 2004, while YouTube arrived in 2005 and Twitter just one year later in 2006.

Today, our smartphones, tablets, wearable technology and the apps they run connect us to the cloud and to each other in ways few would have imagined just 15 years ago.

Increased access to information and the improved ability to share our stories have helped spur change, prompt dialogue and, in many ways, support people to feel more connected. With the tap of a finger or a voice command to our smartphone, we can find friends and colleagues working to create change in our own community and in communities around the globe. We can share broadly. We can speak out against injustice. We can engage differently.

New technologies are lending fresh perspectives and putting power back into the hands of communities. In "Forward: How technology improves community engagement," Tamarack's Lisa Attygalle makes the case for using technology to expand the breadth, depth and quality of engagement.
When online communication methods are layered onto the community engagement continuum, it quickly becomes evident just how many options there are to engage community in the online space alone.

This makes the work of designing engagement strategies both easier and harder, while raising a new series of considerations, says Attygalle, including understanding your audience, deciding how to leverage the resources at hand, determining the appropriate level of engagement and designing an iterative engagement process.

Engagement is not one-size-fits-all and what is appropriate for one initiative will not be appropriate for the next.

In the midst of this technological sea of change, the principles of designing an engagement strategy are still paramount. The growth in engagement methods available to us may feel overwhelming. But if you are strategic and keep your audience's needs central to your strategy, you will create real opportunities for people to engage with you.

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Community Engagement, Louise Merlihan

Louise Merlihan

By Louise Merlihan

An experienced facilitator, Louise has been designing and supporting local and national communities of learning since 1997. She is currently working as a Training Program Manager at Communitech in Kitchener, Ontario.

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