SmartParticipation organizes content, first, into Topic posts and, second, into Subtopic sections within each post. Users participate by attaching comments to specific subtopics.
This structure has several advantages:
- From the list of Topic posts in the Topic Carousel, participants can orient themselves within the scope of the discussion, and make their way quickly to the issues that interest them most.
- Requiring that comments be targeted to a specific subtopic helps to focus participants' attention, increasing the likelihood that their comments will be responsive to the issues, questions, etc. presented in that subtopic.
- The result is comments organized by subject matter. This lets participants easily find other people's comments on a specific subject, and makes interactive discussion more likely. Once the commenting period is over, it helps the sponsoring organization summarize the content of the discussion.
Using this structure effectively requires careful attention to how you organize and divide up the content you want participants to engage with. In particular, you must avoid creating topics or subtopics that significantly overlap with one another.
Think about setting up a filing system for household expense documents. If you label one file folder "Major Repairs" and another folder "2016," where should someone file a July 2016 bill for replacing the transmission in the family car? Either file folder would be a reasonable choice.
This is the kind of choice you do not want to create for participants. Each topic and each of its component subtopics must be clear and distinctive. Of course there will often be connections and interrelationships among topics and subtopics -- especially in a complex proposal or difficult policy question. To deal with this, you can (and should) include links in one section that point participants to other, related sections. And if, despite your best efforts, you're worried that some participants may still be confused about where to discuss a specific issue, you might include language specifically directing them to another post. See an example from a discussion on RegulationRoom.