An interview with RKP on community engagement for political parties
We love communities because they are a part of us all. Community is the thing that connects us to others, to values, to interests and to places. And at the same time community is messy, our diversity mixed in with our commonalities.
At Future Dialog, we embrace the complexity of communities and the people that they comprise. While we make simple community engagement tools, we never expect communities to be simple entities with simple problems.
To advance a deeper understanding of various types of communities in all their diversity and similarities, we’re starting a series of conversations with community practitioners to explore what community engagement looks like in different contexts and why it matters.
Today, we feature a conversation with Christoffer Hällfors, political and data analyst and community manager for the Swedish People’s Party of Finland. Christoffer gives us a glimpse into the world of community engagement from the perspective understanding and knowing party members.
How do you define a community? What does community engagement mean for you?
Our core community consists of our party members, voters, and potential voters.
We always aim to engage our community during and outside of the election season – however, people are typically more interested in the issues we care deeply about during elections. By then, everyone is talking about politics anyways.
For us, engagement is about the communication with our community. It's a two-way street; as much or more about listening than talking.By engaging our community, we can make it grow.
The electorate, in general, is interested in different issues during the election season compared to the normal non-election season.When the issues are on everyone’s mind, it's naturally easier to engage the community.
What are your hopes and inspirations for community development?
Well our goal, naturally for a political party, is growth. To develop active members and an active community so that they themselves want to develop the community around them. Community members that participate, that are active members.
That is the hope and inspiration for community development.
Additionally, at the same time we also want to get more information from our members about what we can do better and ways to advance as a party.
"When you know your community, you know what they can do for you and what you can do for them."
How do you go about developing this active participation?
We try to communicate what we are doing to the community and then get information back. For example, through our app [the RKP Nyckelpigan (ladybug) community engagement app] we can get info back about what is going on with our members, about what they like and what it is that they don’t like. This way we get their response directly.
Also trying to inform the community more about what it is that we are doing so that they can share that with their friends and family. So that we can get more possible members or people that could belong to the community.
How do you create a sense of community identity?
When you think about the communication it’s about how you communicate. There is a lot coming from the values side.
In general, our values is how we are approaching creating the sense of community identity and then by communicating these values we will attract and get more people into the conversation and interested in us. And if we communicate the right value to the voters they will at some point, at least,look at what we mean with those values.
Growth is the tangible outcome of this. Growth is important,but we don’t want to grow at the expense of our base community. We want to reach out to more people, because we know our policies and values are good and a lot of voters share our values. The problem is that we don’t always reach those voters. And that’s what we are trying to do.
For this growth and value communication, how do you do it?
We have a lot of ways how we try to interact, most is through social media these days. Through our website as well.
The hardest thing is the outreach. If we are trying to reach new people, it is hard because they don’t just download the app as the first thing, we have to go through their friends and family. We do this quite well with the Swedish speaking minority, but we have the problem of reaching outside of this group.
What are some of your main community engagement challenges?
Communications is probably the main community engagement challenge,with the outreach being a part of that. The second challenge is that we are very wide spread, we are not active in all of Finland. In some places where we have a lot of activity. In other places we have municipalities with very little activity.
How do you use technology in the community engagement processes? Are there advantages and disadvantages?
There are many advantages because you can store information about members and use that information to know and understand the member. The most important part of the community engagement process is knowing your member and what the member wants to do, and how the member want to engage as well. The stored information about the member can be used for better engagement as well as to modify our own policies if it’s needed.
We use the app, social media and the website as our main communications channels.
At the same time the disadvantage could be that there is always the possibility that some of this data could be hacked and persons with bad intentions would do something with the information. But we have a very secure system soother than that I don’t see any disadvantages using technology in the community engagement process.
Technology is giving us another way for engaging. Before you only had meeting, then you met some of the voters at the markets or then you talk to them at some parties and that was the only way to engage the voters and member. Now you have all the social media and apps, so you can be in communication with the member in so many ways. Likewise, the member can also affect the policies in so many ways that they haven’t had in the past.
"Our values is how we are approaching creating the sense of community identity"
What words of wisdom would you give to others about developing their communities?
Know your community, that is the most important part. When you know your community, you know what they can do for you and what you can do for them. To understand who they are and store information about them so that you can find the members that want to engage and that are active, or to find the members that just want to do a little bit. You have to know your community and your members in the community. And it is always hard. But if you know your members then you know that you need them.
Know your community and let them know you. Because without that you have nothing to stand on.
Build on your values, let your values be the common denominator.
Use technology as a support function. Technology is just a means to an end.
To learn more about community engagement in The Swedish People’s Party of Finland visit SFP.fi. The RKP Nyckelpigan app is supported by Future Dialog, feel free to download it at the App Store or Google Play!
Sign up for our newsletter and receive more community engagement stories like this one! And check this post about another political party doing community engagement.