Can online engagement help reach the Environmental Justice and traditionally underrepresented populations? The EPA’s Environmental Justice (EJ) requirement calls for the meaningful involvement of people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income. At the same time, technology is changing the way we communicate. In response, the use of online public engagement is rapidly expanding, whether it’s on your laptop at home, kiosks in the community center or the smartphone in your pocket. Does technology help or hinder with EJ community engagement?
This webinar explored case studies of planning projects with various transportation agencies (MPO’s, TPO’s, DOT’s) that successfully used online technology to increase the reach of their public involvement efforts. Critical success factors, key strategies and best practices were shared and discussed.
Below are some of the questions that were asked during the Q&A session at the end of the presentation.
Q: For those of us who have never created an online open house/ interactive website, are there other apps or hosting sites that you would recommend that are affordable? Often projects have limited budgets, what practices would you suggest to use for smaller budgets of $25,000-$75,000?
A: As discussed at the end of the webinar, software options like MetroQuest are very affordable to use on most projects. MetroQuest, in particular, is designed to be easy to use on a project and requires no previous experience as the vendor sets the tool up for you with your content. If your budget is really small, online survey tools like SurveyMonkey can be useful though they lack the visual, educational and interactive elements that are helpful for engaging on complex topics.
Q: Much of my practice is for rural municipalities with very low population densities, and often connectivity challenges. Do you have any suggestions?
A: It’s best to provide many options for people including kiosks in community centers or local stores and even paper-based options for people who prefer not to use a device.
Q: How do you connect with immigrant/refugees who are not literate not even in the home language? Minneapolis is home to thousands of Somali’s who are in the process of learning English but English literacy takes time.
A: Attending existing community events with resource people who are able to help people through the process and provide any assistance needed to feel comfortable can be extremely useful for those with reading difficulties. In other situations it’s useful to abandon a formal survey for a moment and simply chat with people about issues that they may be facing relating to the project.
Q: How do you ensure that people can’t skew the results by voting multiple times?
A: MetroQuest is really focused on reducing the barriers to participation to enable broad engagement. We realize, as most of our clients do, that the vast majority of people are unwilling to sign-up for things before they participate, let alone go further to prove their address etc. Because we have not included a log-on step as a requirement to access MetroQuest, we have a fraud detection system to make sure that participants are not able to skew the results by, for example, voting for their preferred option 100 times.