Discuto is a new web-based service out of Austria that supports document-centric discussion and decision making (for more, read their beta launch announcement from December 2013).
Over on their blog, John May shared a curious little formula right before the holidays: Measuring the Efficiency of Consultation, Participation and Engagement
One thing is certain: there is a lot of consultation, participation and engagement going on. And they all seem to use different processes to get our views as citizens, service users or consumers. There are traditional questionnaire surveys, focus groups, e-participation exercises, citizens’ juries, deliberative conferences, world cafés, town hall meetings – the list goes on and on.
Wouldn’t it be good if we knew how efficient these different processes were, and how well they perform their common task of communicating our views as citizens? And what if we could compare the efficiency of all these different processes in different circumstances? That would be great, wouldn’t it?
I have created a new tool for measuring this information flow. It is called the Effective Number of Issues (ENI) and adapts a technique ecologists use to measure the biodiversity of a community of plants or animals. If we think of the information flow as giving rise to a community of issues we can use the ENI to calculate the diversity of this community and thus the efficiency of the process.
The accompanying Practitioner’s Guide (PPTX) lays out the calculations in a few easy-to-follow steps.
For the idea generation stage of one of their recent projects (on developing a digital agenda for the City of Vienna, Austria), the Discuto team calculated an ENI of 145.9. For reference, the total number of ideas generated was 172, according to the project website.
Now, could something like this actually be useful? For engagement scenarios aimed at generating a broad range of ideas, an indicator of this nature might indeed be helpful to compare performance across projects, methods and tools. However, other types of consultations or participatory processes are guided by completely different objectives, so the formula may not be as generally applicable as the article suggests.
For the time being, though, it would be interesting to see ENI being applied to a few more projects and compare notes. A few of our upcoming projects might be suitable, so we’ll keep it in mind.