Applause for The Couch

It’s gratifying when people notice that you’re doing good work. Last week David Hume, a consultant working for the State Services Commission, said The Couch is “a leading example of online participation in New Zealand”.

David is part of a team promoting efforts by government agencies to use the Internet for citizen participation. You can read more about the participation strand of the e-government strategy at www.e.govt.nz. Or if you’re keen, you can hear David’s comments as a panel member in something called a Karajoz Great Blend – a seminar of sorts which is not actually called something as unhip as a seminar – on digital democracy hosted by commentator Russell Brown (see his story “Back when I worked in the arms industry … “ to find out more about the blend, blending, blenders, etc). The audio is available on the Scoop website.

Anyway I didn’t mean to get tangled up in big picture stuff. I want to write about The Couch. It’s been a quite a while since I started managing the website, in May 2006 to be exact, and until now I haven’t got around to writing anything about it.

The Families Commission Komihana a Whanau lauched the consultation website in April 2006 to give people opportunities to tell the Commission what they think about issues relating to family life. Every four to six weeks we run online polls on a range of topics, from parenting to living with disabilities. Information gathered feeds into policy development, identification of hot topics for families, and ongoing advocacy.

We’ve been successful at attracting a large membership. It’s still growing with 2,700 members on board, and people are active with 81% of members having participated in at least one poll. I’m not sure exactly how many people read the results, which we try to publish within a month of polls closing, but the numbers are probably not as high as those who complete polls.

An often neglected aspect of consultation websites is promotion, but the Commission is working very hard to make sure a cross section of New Zealand families join up. Attracting new members from under-represented demographic groups is a key thrust of the marketing. Hence our presence at selected events around the country (more on this soon).

When we don’t have our heads in the administration of the website, we’re looking ahead to how we can build on what has been achieved in the last ten months. With a field as new as online participation, constant refinement and enhancements need to be made. An evaluation of members’ views using an online poll is scheduled to begin next month. The results will give us an idea of whether our plans are on track.

That’s enough for now given I finished work hours ago. There’s much more to say about The Couch so I plan to write something again soon.

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