Calculating the ROI of Engagement

Do we need to calculate specific figures for engagement success? While it would be a tremendous advantage for engagement practitioners to have a quantified analysis of exactly how much increased engagement would be worth in a given project, these numbers are usually not available. Anecdotally, practitioners who are experienced in engaging the public know that there are tremendous benefits for project teams when the level of engagement matches the needs of the project, but these benefits are rarely quantified. Should they or even can they be quantified?

Let us look at three major areas where appropriate development of engagement programs that fit the needs of the project creates return on investment in civic projects.

Cost Savings on Implementation

Bringing the public into the project early creates a smoother process where there are fewer roadblocks to implementation. This is difficult to quantify because the alternative is unknown. Jo Render of Community Contexts says that there is skepticism around anecdotal evidence, “some doubt that these things would have gone wrong if we hadn’t taken this approach”. Every project is different. Jo says that even projects in the same area ten or so years apart could be beyond comparison since the contexts of these projects may change dramatically.

Although the case-by-case results of engaging the public are more difficult to argue for, if you look at the average or even the worst case of what is possible when projects are derailed because of poor public engagement, it is clear that failing to engage the public can have very expensive consequences in project overruns and restarts.

“When something that should be a 6-month project goes 12 months because there is a feeling that you haven't done enough, adding those months onto the project costs money,”  says Lisa Zoeller of Zoeller Consulting.

Operational Savings

There are operational advantages to involving the public that can be quantified, even on a project-by-project basis. Jo Render says that working with the public to identify cheaper routes or locations for facilities can lead to immediate cost savings that are directly attributable to a more open process.

These are the sort of savings that can be directly connected with bringing in local knowledge by involving the public. Alex Albert of Gunn Communications cites projects that she has worked on where local HOAs and homeowners had valuable experience working with local utilities companies’ staff and were able to leverage those relationships to either identify savings or speed up implementation.

Long-Term Relationships

Both implementation and operational savings can come from repeatedly involving the public in projects and creating community trust over the long-term. Leah Jaramillo, VP of Somers-Jaramillo+Associates, says that the public can possess a historical knowledge of community needs and previous solutions that can be very valuable to a project. Leah says that this historical knowledge inspires agencies to want to continue invest in engagement efforts.

ROI Mindset

Although it can be difficult to move past anecdotal evidence for the value of engagement, it is an important practice to get into the mindset of thinking about value.   

  1. Build your case to clients for using appropriate tools and processes for engagement by having a mindset of documenting when value has been added to a project by engaging the public.

  2. Improve your own understanding of which tools and approaches are appropriate for a given project by adopting an ROI mindset and documenting what has worked, when, and what value it added.

Adopting an ROI mindset helps you to chart where you are adding value to a project and evaluate how to improve your process.

How Online Tools Can Help

Online engagement tools can help to get into the practice of tracking ROI. Leah Jaramillo keeps a close eye on metrics from online engagement programs, tracking survey data, response rates, and email opens. Leah says that she has pushed for online engagement tools in planning processes because they provide a better way of tracking metrics.

View expressed in article are the professional opinions of the practitioners who participated and their participation in this article is not an endorsement of the IdeaMapr Engagement Tool