How to ask for, and get, the right amount of participation


If you want people to engage with you, you will need to create opportunity for participation; it’s how engagement is ‘paid’ for. As I like to say, participation is the currency of engagement.

However, a recurring mistake with participation is to expect too little or too much:

  • Ask for too much participation, and fatigue quickly sets in. (I call this the overestimation of participation, and it’s a perennial problem.)
  • Ask for too little participation, and a low opinion sets in. (This is akin to something being so cheap it’s not valued.)

All engagement begins with an invitation, so what would be helpful, then, is to have an invitation that is adaptive and dynamic, showing those who want low participation a low involved option, and those who want higher engagement a higher option, and so on.

Buttons, dots and containers is a simple framework for inviting participation, each level building on the previous:

  • Buttons. You either push a button, or you do not push it. It is a request for a binary yes / no response, normally in an “if…then” statement. This is low participation. E.g:
    • “hands up if you are…”
    • “put in your email here if you want to receive…”
    • “arrive at this room at this time if you want…”
    • “say yes if you’d like to…”
    • “click here to indicate…”
    • “like this on Facebook if…”
  • Dots. You join dots! This is a request for a series of actions, often with a definite end point. This is medium participation. E.g:
    • “do the survey, and then do this homework”
    • “attend the meetings on these dates”
    • “give me three examples of”
    • “train the staff in these four areas”
    • “fill in questions 1 to 5, and then submit”
  • Containers. You fill containers. This is a request for free thinking or action, within set boundaries. This is high participation. E.g:
    • “suggest how we could achieve…”
    • “create your own version of…”
    • “lead this team to achieve…”
    • “submit an idea for…”

What we can do with our dynamic invitation to participate is weave in buttons, dots and containers, so that the recipient with whom we want to engage can self-select their participation level, often by the very next action they take.

Examples of Buttons, Dots and Containers

Let’s use the example of a classroom. A teacher is seeking to engage the class. They must ensure every student can participate at the level they are motivated to. By not offering a range of levels, motivation is lost for those who wanted a different option from the default one provided.

Thus our teacher offers a button, dots, and a container. Let’s say they are looking to see if students know about the subject of growth mindset:

We’re going to do some work on growth mindset now. Could you tell me three examples of where you’ve used growth mindset [dots], or even you could suggest how growth mindset could help us in this class right now [containers], or if not, could you simply say yes if you know what growth mindset is [buttons].

So obviously what’s going on here is they first ask for dots (“three examples”), then a container (“suggest how”), and then lastly, the button (“could you simply say yes if”).

The reason they are in this order is because the dots aren’t too scary for anyone: they are a bit above the button, and a bit below the container. We then build up to the top level of container, and then finish on the simplest level so that the last thing in everyone’s mind is at the least the easiest way to participate (and because we’ve already offered the dots and container options, anyone keen for those levels doesn’t even hear the last line, because they are busy at work in their mind already!)

Here’s another example, this one for volunteers:

We’re looking for volunteers who’d like to get involved in different ways, and all of whom are passionate about ABC. We’re looking for people who might have XYZ skills [dots], or people who can contribute to the planning [containers], or people who can just help out on these dates [buttons].

What’s going on here is much the same. The first sentence primes people by getting them to think “yes” twice (I can get involved, and I’m passionate), while priming them to know there’s going to be different levels, so listen out for your one! Then we offer the dots option, “might have XYZ skills”, emphasising the might to leave room for people who don’t have those skills to not be alienated. Then we go onto the container (“can contribute to”), before wrapping up with the buttons option “people can just help out on these dates.”

Thus, in both examples above we’ve created one invitation that is dynamic and adaptive to a range of participation options.

A button for you, a container for me

To flesh this idea out, comment below with your own scenario, and I’ll help you create a dynamic buttons, dots and containers invitation for it :-)

Any day now, I’ll be a dad for the first time. Then again, I’ve been one for years.


So my wife is 4 days overdue. I haven’t really talked about it here or online much, not because I haven’t wanted to but I just haven’t really go around to it for one reason or another.

So here we are – any day now my wonderful wife will give birth to our first wonderful child, whatever sex it may be.

The question I keep getting asked is – are you a dad yet? – to which my answer is “almost”. But part of me wants to say that I already am.


In Dubai This Week

Hey all – just a quick note to say that I am in Dubai all week, Monday 21 – Friday 25 February, and would love to meet you if you are here, or would love to catch up with any connections that you think might be prudent for me, as we are taking Like Minds out here later on this year.

If you can, comment on this thread, or drop me an email or a tweet, or preferably, just go right ahead and call me on 0044 7771 795566.

Hope to hear from you,

Give Some Money Because I’ve Grown A Moustache

This month is Movember. It’s when men grow ugly moustaches to raise money and awareness about prostate cancer. And so not wanting to be left without contributing, above is my personal contribution to the fight against prostate cancer.

I’m asking that in return for having this hunk of hair on my upper lip all month, you give some money to the cause. £10 would be good.

On a personal level, I’m also raised nothing thus far, so I really need you guys to help me out and make a month without kissing my wife worth it!

So dig deep and give some change here. Continue…

International Youth Conference and Festival

My friend Stephanie Rudat recently invited me to present a keynote at the first International Youth Conference and Festival in Pakistan, next week as it happens!

The event seems incredible – it runs over three days and will be bringing together a fantastic group of people who’ll be talking about media, community, change and people. I can’t wait. What’s even better is I’ll be meeting a few people who engage here and with Like Minds.

I’m also really excited about what I’m talking on. It’s not going to be three points with a few slides – it’s the lessons of my life told through my experiences and the experiences of others. And as is the spirit of this ongoing between this conversation between friends, I’m sharing my notes to form the talk and share the ideas with you.

Here’s a minimized version: Continue…

Scott Gould and Friends: A Whole New World

I’ve been thinking for sometime now about how you make a blog more social. I’ve talked it through a lot with Robin Dickinson, and we think that whilst the “I write and you read” strategy works for well known names like Seth Godin, it does not have the value in richness, application or networking that we believe blogs can have.

On the other side of the ditch, you have community sites where it’s guest post after guest post, and there is a lack of an evolving narrative that guides people over the course of prolonged conversation.

Hence, welcome to what I trust is a middle ground: Scott Gould and Friends. Continue…

I’m Back!

Hello friends — I am back from Spain (36°C) to the glorious English summer of clouds and rain. Certainly I am very, very rested and relaxed. I did no work except on the first two days, and for the majority of the holiday I didn’t even know what time it was as my watch and phone were out of sight!

A year ago after my summer holiday I said I felt re-envisioned, which was just before we launched Like Minds. This time, I feel like I’ve got a bit more re-prioritised. Continue…

A Conversation With Me and Andrew Pickering

I had the pleasure last month of having a conversation with Professor Andrew Pickering from Exeter University, on the subject of “where do good ideas come from?

The conversation was the latest in a range of interviews at Imperica, a smart new project by the renowed Paul Squires which “tracks a number of disciplines, wraps them all together, finds the interesting angles, then talks to the people behind them.”

The conversation began with a discussion of how accesible ideas are today, which made me say that I think ideas are harder to actualise because of the false confidence that an abundance of them creates, and ended up touching on many things including education. Here’s an extract: Continue…

Using Social Media to Extend and Enhance Offline Events and Experiences

Wow, that’s a mouthful. And that’s exactly what I’ll be discussing at the unGeeked Elite Retreat in Chicago on May 12 – 14, 2011.

How does Social Media extend offline experiences? Sure, you can get a long list of resources that will make your event what is called a ‘hybrid’ (a virtual and physical event), but how do you know which ones are the priority for you, and what is the strategy behind those tactics anyway? Continue…