[WEBINAR] A Recipe for Award-Winning Online Community Engagement with the City of Abbotsford

City of Abbotsford Arial scene

This highly visual 45-minute webinar presents research findings and proven best practices, practical tips and award-winning case studies to guide agencies towards the successful application of online community engagement for planning projects. Viewers will walk away with an understanding about how to leverage digital engagement to achieve unprecedented results using cost-effective tools. This session also features our special guests from the City of Abbotsford, BC talking about Abbotsforward, one of the most innovative and successful Official Community Planning projects we’ve ever seen. They join us online to talk about the innovative ways they combined online and targeted face to face community engagement to involve over 8,000 community members in the creation of a plan for Abbotsford, BC. They share advice for agencies seeking to improve the breadth and effectiveness of their community engagement efforts and talk about the positive difference that broad community support is making in their implementation process.

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Participant Comments

Thanks so much for the great comments and kudos. Here’s some of our favorites:
“Really well organized and digestible.”
“Excellent presentation. Concise discussion of lessons learned with real, transferable information.”
“The best presentation on outreach I’ve ever attended (and I’ve done outreach since 1993)”
“Wow! The webinar itself was a great example of effective engagement.”
“Great webinar. Really good info, efficient, relevant to my work.”
“The presentation was really well put together. I really enjoy when a presenter is able to get to the key takeaway first then dive into the specifics of that takeaway. Well done.”
“Great suggestions for thinking outside the box when it comes to public engagement.”
“Very good online presentation. Got a lot of out the speakers.”
“This was a very helpful and insightful presentation. It provided good evidence on the effectiveness of online community engagement.”

AICP CM Credits

Funny Video Promoting Abbotsfwd

Bonus Case Study: NashvilleNext


Here are the questions that were raised by participants following the presentations with answers provided by the presenters.

Q: Each community seems to create their own design, so does each community buy MetroQuest software and do their own product? How does it work?
A: [From Dave] I apologize that I was not able to provide more detailed information about MetroQuest due to the nature of the session. We would be happy to provide additional information to those interested in a separate call. The short answer is that MetroQuest is available by annual subscription and clients simply choose from a variety of screen types to suit the needs of each project and then add their own content (words and images). The product is designed with a wide range of standard functionality and has a number of configuration options to meet the needs of a variety of projects at different stages. The community/agency is free to add unique content to create an engagement experience that matches the needs and branding of each initiative.

Q: How can this information be translated into sustainable RURAL growth?
A: [From Dave] Online engagement tools such as the ones demonstrated are used on all sorts of projects at all scales including many rural projects. The content is different when applied in a rural area but the functionality is similar. In fact, online community engagement is often a primary engagement channel for rural projects since, due to longer travel distances, getting people to come to meetings can be even more difficult than in urban areas. While internet access has become widespread even in rural areas, one must always be mindful of those without access. In many cases kiosks in general stores or community centres are a useful addition.

Q: Are the infographics and MetroQuest tool accessible for persons with disabilities?
A: [From Dave] Accessibility requirements can be met in a variety of ways without going to a 100% text based tool. This blog post outlines how MetroQuest and it’s clients are meeting accessibility standards and working to expand the definition of accessibility. With infographics such as the ones shown for the Atlanta case study, companion text description and image tags can be used to allow the information to be read by screen readers.

Q: Who was in charge of the graphic design of the campaign?
A: [From Reuben] The City hired a consultant early in the process to develop a brand package that included logos, colours, and other graphic elements. Once this was completed, City staff were generally responsible for adapting the graphics to fit a wide range of media uses, except in a few specialized cases.

Q: What was the role of the City compared to the consultant when it came to engagement?
A: [From Reuben] Early in the process, we recognized our effort would have the most impact if directed to expanding the engagement component, using consultant resources more for technical analysis and new perspectives. Although they attended some key events and workshops, and provided graphic material, City staff were responsible for approximately 75% of the engagement events.

Q: How many weeks was the engagement?
A: [From Reuben] Although the project was about 2 years long, engagement periods were focused and intense during that stretch. We started with 5 weeks in the summer of 2014 (Stage 1), followed by 6 weeks in early 2015 (Stage 2) and another 6 weeks in late 2015 (Stage 3), and finally 5 weeks in early 2016 (Stage 4). These periods of intense advertising and presence in the community resulted in high amounts of focused input, rather than minimal input that is drawn out.

Q: How long did you plan before you launched the engagement portion?
A: [From Reuben] See the above answer. With each of the 4 periods of engagement, advanced planning and preparation typically took about 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the diversity and complexity of the engagement activities.

Q: How much time did it take to develop the overall engagement strategy? Did MetroQuest take the lead or was this a shared iterative process?
A: [From Reuben] During the RFP process for engaging a consultant to help with the project, the City created a general outline of how we wanted to conduct the engagement, and requested this to be a key component of consultant proposals. Once a consultant was selected (DIALOG Design) we worked collaboratively to draft a final community engagement strategy (DIALOG included MetroQuest as their online engagement software) that focused on engagement activities. In addition, we had an internal corporate City engagement document to coordinate social media and advertising, with baseline targets for each activity. The engagement strategy was also iterative, and we adapted it as we learned what worked and online engagement was only one piece of the puzzle. Our involvement in the online survey was preparing the content by working with DIALOG.

Q: What was the participation with the community conversations (% of total)?
A: [From Reuben] We had nearly 8,000 interactions across multiple engagement platforms. This is not a measure of individual people, which would be extremely difficult to track since the engagement methods crossed so many different methods, but rather of how many times people interacted with a booth, survey, workshop, etc. Our city population is 140,000, so 8,000 interactions represent almost 6% of the population.

Q: How did you complete the process once the plan was finished?
A: [From Reuben] For engagement, we created a popup park where the draft plan was on display for 3 days and staff attended to answer questions. We also presented the draft plan to Council Committees and other groups. The comments received were used to refine the final plan as a bylaw, and then a final open house and public hearing. Going forward, our plan is to have some format of online or annual report on targets and achievements based on the new plan.

Q: How will you close the loop with participants to report out how their input was used?
A: [From Reuben] See the previous answer. Throughout the project, each Stage of work included a summary of the engagement input that was included in the Stage report. All of this material was presented to Council, posted on our project website, and taken to future events as background information.

Q: What was the engagement budget?
A: [From Reuben] Approximately $70,000 in direct costs, which included about $10,000 for the branding and promotion strategy, about $40,000 for the engagement activities (includes printing, space rental, honorariums, food, advertising, direct mailing, internet for iPads, Facebook, etc.), and about $20,000 for MetroQuest under subcontract. This does not include staff time.

Q: What was the budget for the tools and logistics in particular?
A: [From Reuben] Without providing a spreadsheet, this is difficult to answer but here are some general comments. It ranged from a few hundred dollars to advertise a series of events for a couple weeks in the newspaper, to a few thousand to bring in guest speakers for an evening mix and mingle talk, or create a popup park. However, our dollars were stretched through significant in-kind support from companies wanting to be a part of the project.

Thanks again for your interest and participation in this webinar.

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