What’s the ROI of Your Engagement Efforts? Here’s How to Find Out
You serve a wide variety of citizens with diverse needs. Anticipating and recording their behavioral responses to outreach — let alone putting a measure of value on those responses — can seem like a winding road of guesswork. The distance between outreach and outcomes is broad and intricate.
How can you reliably measure the ROI of your communications?
Shorten the gap by determining ahead of time which simple, measurable outcomes you will look for. Here are our tips.
#1: Make a map.
To make sure you’re on the right road with your public engagement, what you really need to begin with is a map.
Whatever your outreach strategy — email, open data, text messaging — you must develop a framework that demonstrates what you are trying to measure. This is your roadmap of objectives that will determine the nature and effectiveness of your engagement. If you don’t locate and define your value, you won’t know if you are reaching goals or getting a return on your communication investment.
Unlike private sector businesses, you don’t always have the luxury of pointing at a profit and loss sheet to show the exact value of your efforts. But this doesn’t mean you can’t measure the value of engagement. It just means you have to be a little more creative.
#2: Determine what concrete success looks like.
It can be helpful to start by focusing on specific, intermediate outcomes that are easy to report. If these markers show that your engagement is making a difference, you can continue to measure deeper levels of value.
For instance, it might be too broad to declare that you hope to “promote responsible pet ownership” — that’s hard to track definitively. But you could aim to increase the number of registered pets in the city, indicating that more owners are complying with registration and vaccination regulations. Later, your vision can be expanded to include other markers of responsible ownership, eventually resulting in a significantly healthier pet/owner community.
In defining what you want achieve with your engagement, you can consider:
- Benefits to the citizen (delightful services, better quality of life)
- Benefits to your agency (cost savings, more efficient delivery)
- Benefits to society (well-informed people, increased public health and safety)
However big or small the outcome, you want to justify your communication efforts and make sure you’re getting the most bang from your engagement bucks. So pinpoint where the value lies and determine to make that the gold standard in deciding whether your campaign is effective.
#3: Measure, measure, measure.
Success in public engagement is nuanced. It isn’t heralded by a big sign that says “You Have Arrived.” You won’t see 100% of citizens respond to your safety campaign by replacing their fire alarms and servicing their extinguishers. But you should be able to measure fewer fire department calls and a reduced number of fire-related injuries — a sign that your efforts have made a difference.
In addition to behavioral or circumstantial trends, you can also track more specific outcomes, like an increased number of transit riders with registered monthly passes. This outcome is more concrete and speaks to the success of your campaign to encourage the use of public transit.
The key is that your roadmap should point to your goals from the beginning, or you will miss the signs that indicate you’re headed in the right (or wrong) direction.
#4: Show off your work.
Extrapolate simple value from reportable changes in behavior. Even a trend in the right direction is a perfectly acceptable ROI for your efforts. Make a chart (like this one that reports a trend in smoke detector testing deployments after increased communication efforts around that), show it off, and continue that outreach if citizens are responding to it. This is one of the best uses of any open data technology you have laying around. Take your data, visualize it, and then use data stories to explain your methodology, assumptions, and conclusions.
Whether you’re measuring a trend or a concrete number, what you need are reportable differences when evaluating your outreach. The differences might not be glaringly obvious, but that does not make them unimportant. Each one helps guide your future engagement efforts to greater efficiency and attests to the value that your citizen-government relationship brings to your community and agency. It’s your job to point them out.