[WEBINAR] A Recipe for Award-Winning Online Community Engagement Featuring Anchorage

Anchorage Alaska skyline

This highly visual 45-minute webinar presents research findings, proven best practices, practical tips and award-winning case studies to guide agencies towards the successful application of online community engagement for planning projects. Participants walk away with an understanding about how to leverage digital engagement to achieve unprecedented results using cost-effective tools.

The webinar showcases a wide range of outstanding planning projects throughout the Pacific Northwest. Our special guests from the Municipality of Anchorage join us to talk about Anchorage Talks Transit, one of the most innovative and successful outreach efforts we’ve seen. They discuss the innovative ways they combined online and targeted face to face community engagement to more community members than ever before to help inform the plan. They also share advice for agencies seeking to improve the diversity and effectiveness of their community engagement efforts and talk about the positive difference that broad community support is making as they move forward.

Watch Recording

View Slides

This webinar featured three presenters: Dave Biggs from MetroQuest, Michelle Poyourow from Jarrett Walker + Associates and Collin Hodges from the Municipality of Anchorage.

Participant Comments

Thanks so much for the great comments and kudos. Here’s some of our favorites:

[Wow, thanks!]

AICP CM Credits

Here is the direct link to claim your AICP credits from the APA. Note that the date trips people up. This webinar is part of a series so they instructed us to set it up as an “on-demand” session so you’ll notice that the start and end are a year apart.

Bonus Case Study: NashvilleNext

Mentioned briefly in the webinar, this case study of the NashvilleNext process shows why they were the 2016 winners of the APA 2016 National Daniel Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan.


Here are the questions that were raised by participants that we didn’t get a chance to respond to during the session.

Questions for Dave from MetroQuest

Q: MetroQuest looks like useful software. What is the best way to get more information about it?
A: [From Dave] I apologize for not being able to provide more in-depth information about MetroQuest due to the educational nature of this session. The best place to start would be to connect with Derek Warburton at MetroQuest (by email to derek.warburton@metroquest.com, or toll free phone: 1-855-215-0186. Derek will be pleased to make sure you get the information you need. In the meantime, here is a quick video to give you a better sense of the software.

Q: Once you choose your screens, etc., it works both on web and smartphone?
A: [From Dave] Yes, all of the MetroQuest screen types are designed to work on computers and smartphones. The layout for each screen type is different on smartphones to make the experience delightful on those smaller screens. The software automatically detects the device type and gives people the layout best-suited for their device. Here’s an image to give you a sense.

Q: Any advice for engaging EJ populations in the community?
A: [From Dave] This is a critical topic and there is no short answer that is satisfying other than to say that using well-designed technology can help a great deal but some audiences will always benefit from a more “high touch” or “go to them” approach. It was so frequently mentioned as we interviewed agencies in our review of needs and best practices for community engagement that we organize a special webinar called “Engaging Vulnerable & Disadvantaged People in Planning.” It filled to capacity so quickly that we organized a second session which also filled up. We have therefore made it available to all on-demand via this link: https://metroquest.com/webinar-engaging-vulnerable-disadvantaged-people-in-planning/. You’ll also find some articles we’ve written on the topic here: https://metroquest.com/blog/. I hope this is helpful.

Q: What is the cost of a yearly all-you-can-use level?
A: [From Dave] My apologies for not being able to go into more detail about MetroQuest. Due to the educational nature of the webinar I did not feel that it was appropriate. The pricing for an all-you-can-engage annual subscription depends on the size of your organization so that even smaller agencies with tighter budgets can take advantage. If you are curious to learn more feel free to email or call Derek Warburton at derek.warburton@metroquest.com or toll free at +1 855-215-0186. He’ll be happy to help.

Q: These surveys could be sent to an existing list as well or are they designed to be completed in-person at an interactive station?
A: [From Derek] Most agencies send out the survey to various lists and otherwise promote them to as many people in the community as they can. They don’t have to be in person. Most complete from home or smartphone.

Q: In the examples where tablets or kiosks were used for collecting input, was there any person-to-person interaction?
A: [From Dave] In most projects there are a combination of web-based and face to face interaction. This was the case in the examples where kiosks and tablets were used. Kiosks can be used in a standalone setting such as a community center or library entranceway. In these situations, they are typically used without any person to person interaction. Tablets are most commonly used at events where there is a project team member within close proximity of the table where they are available allowing people to ask questions or chat if they feel inclined.

Q: Is Anchorage using the transit plan process to identify public involvement best practices for consistent use in other city planning projects?
A: [From Dave] Yes, in our ongoing pursuit of what’s working best in online community engagement the Anchorage case study is an important source of learning for us. We are very keen to see what happens in the next phase of outreach that is ramping up now. We have already discussed doing an update with Collin once those results are in.

Questions for Michelle from Jarrett Walker + Associates

Q: For the Anchorage Transit outreach, how different were the outcomes, compared to what the transit planning experts would recommend? How much did public engagement influence the outcomes?
A: [From Michelle] You asked how different the results of the public surveys were, compared to what the planners would recommend. That’s a great question. The truth is, we don’t have a recommendation about how these trade-offs should be made for Anchorage. We may have an opinion about our own towns, where we are stakeholders, but we are not Anchorage stakeholders and our values are therefore irrelevant. As technical experts, we can show people the trade-offs, and encourage them to participate in making that difficult choice, but our opinions about how that choice should be made don’t belong in the process. We keep our technical recommendations separate from choices that are really about peoples’ values.

For example, we can design an excellent high-coverage, low-ridership network, if a city values coverage more than ridership. Or we can design an excellent high-ridership (high-frequency), low-coverage network. Those are technical exercises. But which is BETTER for the community is not a technical question, and we don’t deign to answer it.

Q: Did you tabulate people’s choices of their priorities? If so, how did you use that info?
A: [From Michelle] We did indeed tabulate how many people selected each “Priority”, and how highly they ranked it. We then looked at those results, and shared them with decision makers. The results were what you might expect from the results we shared: strong interest in higher ridership and higher frequency service. However, there was also an interest in having high coverage, with some service close to everyone, and as you now understand that goal comes into conflict with a goal of high ridership (or high frequency). Which is why it was so important to ask people’s input, also, in response to those two scenarios, so that they would be forced to wrestle with the trade-off.

Questions for Collin from the Municipality of Anchorage

Q: Any pointers for increased turn out at follow up meetings? The Anchorage team described a series of follow up meetings that were not well attended. What purpose were those meetings to serve if no new proposal or scenario was presented.
A: [From Collin] If we were to do this particular project again, we might not host “traditional” public meetings as follow-up events at all. We may have spent more time at pop-up events instead, for example informational tables at neighborhood events or setting up a table at other organizations’ meetings. We did some of those pop-up events throughout the project, and we got residents to take the MetroQuest survey that way (we had tablets at each event). However, with the clarity of hindsight, we would have allocated more resources to that pop-up strategy instead of investing as much time as we did in the traditional public meetings.

In terms of getting more turnout for the public meetings, targeted mailings to residents within a certain distance of the venues could have helped.

The purpose of the follow-up meetings was to provide a variety of locations and times after the kickoff that residents could engage with staff in-person about the project. But within the context of a relatively conceptual conversation about transit priorities, the traditional public meeting format was probably not the best choice for those follow-up efforts.

Q: Was there any direct mailings done to residents to explain the whole project and direct people to the online engagement tools?
A: [From Collin] We did not do any direct mailings, primarily because we did not have the budget that would have been required to mail info cards to all of the addresses on our existing routes. As an alternative, we opted to post flyers at community destinations throughout Anchorage in English and our four LEP languages (at coffee shops, grocery stores, municipal buildings, schools / universities, churches, ESL program offices, etc.).

Q: Can you give us links or examples of “on-line mapping programs?
A: [From Collin] The programs we considered for presenting our bus network concepts in the Implementation phase were MetroQuest, Wikimapping, and Remix. Our department recently purchased a Remix license to supplement our route planning process, so in the interest of leveraging existing resources we decided to use Remix as the primary web component of our Implementation outreach process. [From Dave] While MetroQuest has several mapping screens (https://metroquest.com/how-it-works/), they are designed to collect community input so they are more commonly used during the planning rather than implementation phases of projects.

Q: Did you have interpreters available at every meeting? In the past, for example, I have indicated in an ad that if ADA accommodations were needed, participants could contact me directly. Did attendees need to request an interpreter or were they just available regardless?
A: [From Collin] We provided and advertised interpreters at the big kickoff event as a matter of course, but for all other meetings we provided them on request only.

Thanks again for your interest and participation in this webinar.

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