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Using “Citizen Personas” To Increase Participation

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Using “Citizen Personas” To Increase Participation

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Think back to when you first launched your MindMixer platform, those heady days of new voices and new ideas pouring in from all corners of your community. With the click of a button (and some smart planning and promotion), a handful of attendees at public meetings turned into hundreds or thousands of online participants.

But, now your goals have expanded. It’s essential to increase participation. It’s no longer enough to reach more of your constituents; you want to reach all of your constituents, starting with specific populations whose voices remain silent or soft.

The good news is those people want to connect with you, too. According to research from the American Planning Association, community planning is deemed important by a wide majority of all demographics – young and old, right- and left-wing, urbanites and suburbanites. And more than half would like to be involved in that planning.

So, how do you turn them into active participants on your MindMixer platform? One idea is to take a page from the marketer’s playbook and create Citizen Personas, an adaptation of Buyer or User Personas, designed to help you better understand and motivate the specific groups of people you’d like to engage.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Identify your target population. Depending upon your community, this might be new residents, Hispanics, women or someone entirely different. If you’re unsure whom to target, start by reviewing your reports, which will reveal participants’ age and gender.
  2. List their commonalities. Include both demographic and psychographic traits —everything from age, gender and income, to beliefs, lifestyles and hobbies.
  3. Create a single representation, a persona. Construct a “character” representative of this group. Bring your character to life with a name, age, family, job and favorite local hangouts and activities. Here’s an example of what this might look like:
  4. Ask relevant questions. Put yourself in your character’s shoes and ask: “What’s keeping me up at night?” “What are my neighbors stopping me to discuss?” and “What does my ideal community or campus look like?” Use the answers to pinpoint important issues and generate meaningful questions. You can also lean on your teammates in other departments who might have insight into issues affecting your character.
  5. Go where they go. Movie theaters, neighborhood coffee shops, dormitories and other hot spots are prime places for letting specific populations know about the opportunity to shape the future of where they live, work and play. Also consider asking influencers – like neighborhood representatives and business professionals – to spread the word.

After one target population becomes engaged, rinse and repeat to recruit another until your online community is an accurate and fair representation of your real community.

By Jennifer Funk
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