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Building bridges with online communities: innovative participation research by I&O Research


Starting an in-depth conversation between politicians and (young) citizens may sound difficult, but for Gwendolyn van Straaten and Amar Mathurin at I & O Research, anything is possible. It was clear from the start that they wanted to use market research tooling to build a thriving online community where all participants could engage for a few weeks. Read below how they managed to create two successful communities with CMNTY Platform.

The team 

I & O Research is a Dutch market research company, primarily active in government and public affairs. They are specialized in a broad range of domains and topics including their own in-house field workers. With their reliable, independent research, they help their clients make better and substantiated decisions. I & O has been wanting to extend their online toolbox with methods for qualitative research for a while, but when COVID hit, the need for a flexible and hybrid solution became undeniable.

Gwendolyn and Amar have both been working on several research projects with CMNTY. Amar and the rest of the qualitative team invited CMNTY a few years ago for an introduction and presentation. Although it took a while before the first collaboration started, there was an immediate connection on personal and professional front.

We eventually chose CMNTY because it’s flexible to collect deep, qual data with a large group. You can also perform in-depth research with conversations, which is not usually the case with surveys”, Amar states.

Gwendolyn van Straaten and Amar Mathurin

Two projects, two communities

I & O successfully built two online communities discussing the topic of participation between citizens, elected officials and the municipality in general. Capelle aan den IJssel, a town in the Netherlands, was the first to conduct online qualitative research. This was new for Capelle aan den IJssel. Because of their open minded attitude and trust in I & O Research, they were convinced this method would provide them with the insights they needed.

“There are a lot of advantages of working with CMNTY such as the ability to organize your research with more participants who are able to answer questions in their own time frame. But also the fact that you can easily move your questions around the data and answers you collect in the community.”

When COVID hit, it became impossible to organize physical research and eventually, Capelle aan den IJssel decided to take the leap.  I & O conducted a project with 50 participants to talk about citizen participation. The main research question was: ‘How do citizens experience participation in Capelle aan den IJssel and how can we improve it in order to meet their needs and wishes?’

The ministry of domestic Affairs, which was the second project, wanted to organize a project on participation between teenagers and elected officials. The main goal was to find out how these groups communicate with each other. Part of the research was to collect information, but also to see how they would interact and if there were any barriers. “How easily do they talk to each other? Do they even find each other at all? So we thought it was a good idea to put them together for a longer period of time to talk and discuss different topics and experiences. And CMNTY Platform is the perfect way to do it”, Gwendolyn says.

Online platforms are a big part of the daily lives of young people so they found their way in the community fast and were pretty active as well. Legislators needed a little bit more motivation, but once they started engaging in the community a lot of valuable, rich and beautiful data was gained. Gwendolyn also noticed that the combination of interaction with individual assignments worked pretty well. Respondents could be creative, send videos, create a MoodBoard…

”This is of course something you don’t have in an interview or focus group. So that was definitely an advantage of having an online community”, according to Gwendolyn.

Gwendolyn van Straaten

Added value to the online research toolbox

I & O wanted to expand their online toolbox for various reasons. To extend their own range and possibilities for instance, but one of the main reasons was to let people participate in research projects at their own pace. People can participate at their preferred time and have the advantage to think about certain questions. This allows I & O to give them more complex problems, questions and even specific tasks. Participants in one of the projects were asked to write a letter to their town council.

“They had the time to think about it and that’s when you get invaluable, rich data and feedback.”

By using online tooling, you also give a chance to a wider range of people to participate and engage. It attracts people who would otherwise not participate in an offline focus group. This way you get more variation in your respondents. Participants can go onto the platform at any time during the day, scroll through the community and react to what has been said at their own pace.

The fact that an online community is largely anonymous or at the very least the fact that you have the choice to be, also attracts a larger group. “Some people prefer that you don’t have to speak up publicly or that you have a one on one sit down with a moderator. Some people choose to stay anonymous while still giving their opinion, which is perfectly possible”, Amar states.

Amar Mathurin

A mix of features

I & O made a test corner for the first few days in the chat environment as a form of introduction. Everybody could interact and introduce themselves in a low-key manner. They could also post pictures or videos to break the ice. During the community, I & O mostly used the forum feature, diary and some surveys to manage some (individual) projects. Gwendolyn and Amar also used the Challenge feature as an idea box without using the competition solutions. “We didn’t focus on who had the best idea, but more on the fact that you could support each other’s ideas. Participants could send an idea and then people would like that or comment on it. It worked very well!”

From curious to excited

For Capelle aan den IJssel, this was a new way to conduct data, but they were willing to try new things out. CMNTY ran for about three weeks and I & O scheduled sessions in between to show their client how everything was going and to brainstorm about new questions that came out of the community. They were following anything that happened in the community from the sidelines. After every session they were thrilled with what was collected out of the community. They were also surprised about how much data you could actually gather from it, Amar says.

“In the first week of the community we realized most of our main questions were already answered. This resulted in extra time to explore other questions our clients had. They were also very enthusiastic about the energy and positivity in the group and loved how everybody engaged with each other.”

These sessions were very helpful for both I & O and their clients because they were able to steer the conversation in a certain direction based on what was collected. They could highlight certain topics more and ask in-depth or follow-up questions when needed. “Because we discussed everything, it really became a mutual project”, Gwendolyn states.

Why CMNTY instead of competitors?

There were a couple of reasons for I & O Research to choose CMNTY instead of competitors. The fact that the company is based in The Netherlands and is able to switch to Dutch when needed is a plus. This was reassuring for their respondents. Secondly, the platform was very user-friendly and looked very smooth, Amar and Gwendolyn say.

“The third reason is actually something we’ve noticed when we were already working with CMNTY, but everybody always reacts so fast. They helped us with the setup and the practical side of the platform. The team also cooperates and thinks along. As soon as an issue occurred, people at CMNTY started resolving it and by the next research project, you already saw improvements”

“It already started with the first conversations. The enthusiasm and passion for the job and tooling is present, so that’s also one of the reasons we chose CMNTY”, says Amar.

Ready to build insightful communities just like Gwendolyn and Amar did? Get a demo here or contact us via

Learn more about I & O research here.

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