3 Best Practices for Text-Based Civic Engagement (from Textizen)

Textizen continues to be a particularly interesting online public engagement tool because it’s the only one that relies on SMS (texting) technology — which  means that it’s accessible to both smart phone and non-smart phone users, and thus accesible to a much wider population than a platform that only works on a computer or a tablet or a smart phone.  That’s crucial in working with many populations, including the economically disadvantaged.

This post from Textizen is not new, but it’s a great summary of both good practices for engagement design and the unique specifics of civic engagement through texting.  A great read.


1. Start Backwards: Define Your Goal
When kicking off a campaign, start with the ultimate goal and work backwards.

Are you focused on gauging the impact of near-term local development projects, or long-term master plan adoption? Preparing for school budget cuts, or trying to raise participation in programs? Or are you most interested in collecting demographics to better understand a particular audience?

What types of data, information, or engagement would be most useful for influencing decision-makers?

Examples: ranking of service preferences, support or opposition for a proposal, broad generation of ideas, contact information to bring people to in-person events.

Once your goals are clear, and you’ve identified the types of data you’ll need, all that’s left is getting people hooked and asking a few followup questions.

2. Get Participants Hooked with the Right Opening Question
The first question plays a huge role in the success of your survey. Once people text in to your campaign, completion rates are usually quite high: 90% for 3-question surveys, and 50-70% for 5-8 question surveys. But only if the first question is compelling!

Here are a few ideas for how to get people’s attention:

  • Get people interested or emotional: take advantage of both topic and phrasing. Topics such as a new minimum wage or proposed rapid transit line may have broad appeal.
  • Using imaginitive language, making it clear that respondents can truly make an impact, and presenting visually descriptive options will further encourage people to respond.
  • Start with a simple question. Make it as easy as possible for people to get started. A yes/no or multiple choice question makes it faster for people to respond. You can ask for more detail in follow-up questions.

Example Questions:

  • Does this [picture] look like a good idea? Text Yes or No
  • How is the city doing on transparency? Give us a letter grade from A-F.
  • Business Owners! Which of these 3 changes would make it easier for your business to grow?

3. Aim for the Sweet Spot: 5-8 Questions

Textizen supports surveys of any length, but 5-8 question surveys hit a sweet spot for most campaigns. They provide plenty of room to collect enough data and demographics to make informed decisions, while respecting peoples’ time and keeping response rates high.


Hungry for more?
Find these tips along with plenty of our other findings, examples, templates, and more in our Best Practices guide, now available to all Textizen subscribers.



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