[TIPS] 6 Benefits of Digital Community Engagement

couple in park with laptop taking online public engagement survey

You may be wondering – what’s all the fuss about online engagement tools? Don’t the traditional methods work just fine?

Digital tools have a few key advantages over traditional methods of public engagement. Here are six of the most common benefits of online engagement that we hear from organizations:

1. Reach a Diverse Audience  

One of the main benefits of digital community engagement is the ability to reach a wider audience. Traditional engagement methods relied on community members to be physically present at meetings or events to participate. While the input you receive is still helpful, the people who show up to these meetings generally represent a narrow demographic. Their opinions are not representative of the entire community.  

Digital tools help virtual public engagement efforts reach a broader and more diverse audience. Projects that take advantage of online engagement tools reduce the barriers to participation. This leads to the potential of gathering feedback from people you may not have been able to previously reach.   

For example, social media platforms can be used to promote your project and gain traction on your online survey. MetroQuest surveys can be accessed from any device with an internet connection, making it easier for community members to participate at their convenience!    


2. It’s Cost Effective  

Keeping costs under control is vital for any project. When budgeting your project, remember that traditional forms of engagement can be expensive. Let’s do some quick math: A standard public meeting could cost $10,000 or more. If this public meeting engages only 50 attendees, the cost is $200 per participant. This price tag accounts for meeting space, printed materials and staff time.   

On the other hand, utilizing digital tools can reduce these prices or eliminate them entirely. Although traditional community engagement methods are important, online surveys and virtual meetings can be effective alternatives. They minimize the need for travel and allow people to participate wherever they are, making it easier for those with busy schedules who cannot attend in-person meetings. 

Additionally, digital tools can also be used to automate data collection and analysis, reducing the need for manual data entry. By using digital tools to streamline engagement efforts, transportation planners can save time and resources while still engaging with the community effectively. With a well-designed digital engagement tool, the cost could be closer to $5 per participant. These cost-savings will leave more resources for other activities. 


3. Increase Engagement and Reach Underrepresented Groups  

One of the main challenges in traditional community engagement methods is reaching underrepresented groups. These groups may face barriers to participation, such as lack of transportation, language barriers, or work or family obligations. This can result in a lack of diverse perspectives and voices in the decision-making process, which can lead to plans that only partially reflect the needs and concerns of the community.   

Virtual public engagement can help address these challenges by providing more accessible and inclusive engagement opportunities. For example, online surveys can be translated into multiple languages, making them more accessible to non-English speakers. Virtual meetings can be recorded and posted online, allowing community members who cannot attend in person to access the information and provide feedback. Online discussion forums can be moderated to ensure that all voices are heard, and that the conversation is respectful and inclusive.   


4. Informed Decision-Making 

Gathering input from thousands of people is great, but what’s not great is having to input data manually and making sense of hundreds of comments. Digital tools simplify this time-consuming task; the data is easy to analyze and take action on. This allows your team to spend more time finalizing and getting reports approved.   

The more data you collect, combined with engaging a broader audience and providing real-time data analysis, the transportation planners like yourself can make more informed decisions. By leveraging digital community engagement, you can ensure that the ultimate plans being drafted and soon developed are grounded in community feedback and reflect the needs and concerns of the people you serve.   


5. Strengthen Community Partnerships  

The convenience of community partnerships should not be underestimated. Building trust and strong relationships with community members and stakeholders is critical to the success of transportation plans. However, building and maintaining these relationships can take time and effort, especially due to competing priorities and limited resources.  

Virtual public engagement can strengthen community partnerships by providing more opportunities for collaboration and communication. For example, virtual meetings can bring together community members and transportation planners in a way that is more convenient and accessible for everyone involved. Using online tools, you can engage with community members in real time and answer questions and concerns as they arise.  

Virtual public engagement can also help transportation planners build relationships with community members who may not have been engaged in traditional methods. By providing more accessible and inclusive engagement opportunities, transportation planners can reach a broader audience and ensure that all voices are heard. This can help build trust and relationships with underrepresented groups and foster a more collaborative relationship between transportation planners and the community. 


6. Improve Transparency  

You should prioritize transparency in your public involvement planning, outreach and reporting. With traditional engagement methods, community members may not have access to all the information they need to make informed decisions. They may also ask themselves—how will my input make a difference? What will they do with our feedback?   

You can create a better rapport with your constituents by involving the public in your planning process. This can help avoid or lessen any backlash. Great online tools provide an outlet for public input without allowing negative comments to dominate the conversation.   

For example, online dashboards can share real-time data analysis with the community, providing greater transparency in transportation planning decisions. Online discussion forums can also provide a platform for community members to ask questions and receive answers in real time. It’s essential to build trust and credibility within your community. 

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