Chat about your department's new strategy anonymously. Or about being queer in the workplace. Civinc enables VodafoneZiggo colleagues with different perspectives to enter into discussion in a safe way. This creates support, empathy and understanding: "You have more in common with each other than you think."

Speaking your mind about important subjects or organisational issues leads to greater understanding and engagement among colleagues. However, there's a problem with that. "Not everyone is able to talk about it as easily," says Marieke Zuidema, Director of People Development & Leadership at VodafoneZiggo. "Especially when your opinion differs, or you’re afraid to ask certain questions. Whereas we actually want everyone to feel safe enough to enter into discussion with each other and be involved in our policies. Whether that concerns (gender) diversity, an organisational change, or the work culture."

Chatting outside your bubble
How do you involve everyone in those themes? Ruben Treurniet and Leon Horbach, founders of startup Civinc, developed an online platform for that. The name comes from 'civic inclusion', i.e. broad social engagement and inclusion. "The concept originated during the run-up to the 2017 national elections”, Ruben explains. "We saw political debate hardening: people were diametrically opposed to one another. That is why we launched, where visitors could chat with voters anonymously and one-on-one outside of their bubble on the basis of statements."

A good fit
It laid the foundation for Civinc, a platform that allows employees to enter into discussion with each other safely and anonymously. "Civinc complements what VodafoneZiggo does to connect people," says Marieke. "We have an open culture in which we embrace diversity and encourage colleagues to speak their minds. For example, we organise events and talks to this end. Employees can also share their opinions anonymously via Civinc on sensitive or controversial topics."

Safe exchange
Civinc brings colleagues with different points of view together. Ruben: "We come up with statements related to a single topic in advance. For example, whether VodafoneZiggo devotes sufficient attention to diversity and inclusion. Employees log in anonymously and give their opinions. The software connects them in one-on-one chat sessions with people who have given different answers. You then enter into discussion about each statement. When you’re done talking, you switch to the next statement or chat partner."

Surprising insights
VodafoneZiggo is the first large organisation to deploy Civinc widely. This is mainly related to themes within diversity and inclusion in the first instance, but the tool is more broadly applicable. Marieke recently got two hundred People Leaders to enter into discussion about the new company-wide strategy. Marieke: "It turned out that everyone understood how they could contribute to this with their own team. As a result, we know we don't have to focus our communications on that anymore."


Nuance rather than likes
Chatting anonymously, without anyone listening in: doesn't that actually cause polarisation? Marieke: "We get that question all the time and every session proves the opposite. People actually show vulnerability and act respectfully. They are bold enough ask questions and there is room for nuance." Leon adds: "You don't have an audience listening in to whom you have to prove yourself. You also cannot earn rewards in the form of likes, followers, or shares. Moreover, the system is self-cleansing: if you are not OK with something, you switch partners or statements."

Data with potential
The sessions provide a wealth of useful data. Marieke: "We get a picture of the answers for each statement, as well as insights that the sessions have brought. That's how we gauge sentiment." Thanks to AI technology, Civinc also provides analyses of the arguments, ideas and solutions that people give in discussions. "For example, the strategy session showed that People Leaders held widely differing views on the impact of hybrid working on the strategy and the organisation. We can now build on that. Without this session, that would not have come to the fore so clearly."

Thinking big
What's in the pipeline for the near future? Marieke: "We will soon hold sessions on masculine and feminine leadership, our sustainability goals, and VodafoneZiggo as an employer." Leon and Ruben would like to see Civinc applied structurally. "With Civinc, we are contributing to a new culture of discussion by including all perspectives and showing what really matters. VodafoneZiggo is open to this. We are ambitious and dare to pioneer. They do too."