The last two years have sparked important conversations regarding equity and equality in the planning industry. As the world increasingly leans more into virtual experiences, community engagement strategies should naturally become more creative, diverse and inclusive.
At MetroQuest, we are interested in having critical and educational discussions surrounding the future of public engagement. We are living in a pivotal moment when conversations surrounding equity are being pushed to the forefront of community engagement projects. The use of in-person and online engagement strategies is more essential than ever.
To support that ongoing conversation, we’re excited to host our second Conference on Virtual Public Engagement Planning for Transportation Planning (#VPET22), kicking off this month! We’ll have speakers from NCDOT, TxDOT, WSP, HDR, Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization and more share their case studies, challenges, and lessons learned around public engagement. As we look forward to the discussions and best practices for implementing ways to reach underserved and marginalized communities, I want to share 5 tactics that will help you better engage your community and achieve equitable results. Let’s get started…
Valuable equitable community engagement tactics:
Get To Know the People You Serve
The key to equitable decision-making relies on knowing the priorities of the people in your community. Pay attention to all demographics in your community regardless of race, age, or gender identity, and create avenues to include their input meaningfully. Look into their preferred communication methods, whether it be online through social media or if they value face-to-face interactions through community meetings. Do they have their own meeting areas and networks in place? Going out of your way to engage with your audience is a great first step to establishing trust and transparency between both parties and leads well into other equitable community engagement tactics.
Lack of inclusion leads to inequitable results. Consider the different types of people in your community and how to give everyone an equal opportunity to participate. Increasing accessibility means more than offering in-person and online surveys. Barriers such as language, disabilities, transportation, socioeconomic status, access to technology and time often prevent people from engaging. Look at your initial survey results, for example, and analyze the data to understand which parts of the community are underrepresented in your public engagement so far. Brainstorm alternative methods that allow more people to participate in ways that are best suited for them. As a result, your engagement will be more inclusive, and you’ll end up with more robust data from more of the community.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Reflect on past community engagement projects and review the responses. Do these results reflect all the demographics in your community? Were there unconscious barriers that prevented participation? The journey to inclusive outreach and equitable engagement means reflecting on missteps in the past to inform future strategies. Crafting a survey that is equally effective and comprehensible is important, but maybe the language was still too opaque for the audience you wanted to reach. Developing a culture of engagement in communities, such as diversified meetings, events and promotional campaigns, is another important tactic for equitable community engagement, but maybe the choices offered weren’t right for your area. Confronting flaws in past engagement projects and bettering them will lead to better outreach, input that’s more representative of your community, and ultimately more thoughtful planning and sustainable decision-making.
Build Community Trust
Building trust in a community that has been historically underserved or disadvantaged takes time. But, as always, actions speak louder than words. If underserved or marginalized populations in your community feel mistreated or neglected, prove to them that you are listening. Showcase your results so members can see firsthand how their input is implemented into transportation plans. Become a trustworthy presence in your community by showing their needs are being prioritized in official planning.
Create New Traditions
Planners can no longer rely solely on traditional public engagement methods and instead must be as adaptable as possible. Remember, community engagement tactics are never one-size-fits-all. Get creative and embrace the inevitable changes as we shift to more hybrid engagement planning, particularly as we strive for equitable community engagement. Equitable results are a sign of strong community engagement efforts. They are increasingly achievable as the planning industry develops more robust tactics and shares best practices during this crucial development period in virtual engagement.
We’ll have case studies, best practices, and more tips for equitable community engagement, tools and techniques for success, and more at VPET22! For more information on the Conference on Virtual Public Engagement for Transportation Planning, check out our conference website.