Powerful Community Engagement Strategies for Small Planning Projects

Powerful Community Engagement Strategies for Small Planning Projects

In a recent webinar, we shifted our focus from large-scale planning to uncover powerful strategies for community engagement on smaller, local projects like bikeway studies, corridors and other community plans. Throughout the discussion, a panel of community engagement specialists including our Chief Engagement Officer, Dave Biggs, uncovered effective ways to increase your public participation, powerful strategies for promoting your engagement plan and techniques to optimize online surveys for smaller projects.

In case you missed out, the on-demand recording is now available to watch online: How Online Public Engagement Takes Off: Lessons from a Bikeway Study in NC.

In the meantime, here’s a quick recap of some of the powerful strategies that can help you optimize and increase your public engagement for even your smallest planning projects:

Designing a Public Participation Plan for a Smaller Project

Designing a Public Participation Plan for a Smaller Project

In January, Biggs spoke with Jasmine Thompson and Sarah Parkins, both Community and Public Involvement Specialists for WSP; Kenneth Withrow, NC CAMPO’s Senior Transportation Planner; and Erich Melville, Bicycle and Pedestrian Planner at McAdams. When asked how they approach designing an effective engagement plan for their smaller projects, the panel reminded us that:

  • There’s no one size fits all solution to any type of engagement process. Something that might be working on a State-wide level likely won’t work or have the same effect on a smaller scale.
  • We need to be mindful of the wide range of stakeholder groups that exist in our communities. Determine the different types of people you intend to reach and their preferred approach to providing feedback so that you can craft an effective strategy for engaging with each group.
  • There are many ways to be adaptive during COVID-19. There are a wide range of online tools available today that can enable us to effectively engage our communities virtually.

Increasing Public Engagement for Local-Level Plans

When we think of small projects, we often think:

  • Less budget = less resources
  • Less time = less organic growth
  • Smaller scale = less people
  • Niche topics = narrow interest

But that doesn’t necessarily mean low levels of engagement. From bridge replacement studies to local park projects, the panel shared some insight into how to increase public involvement for all types of small plans. Here are a few of their tips:


Tip #1: Rely on your community partners.

Leverage Community Groups and Neighborhood Leaders

Community groups and neighborhood leaders are great resources for targeting hard-to-reach audiences. Reach out to them! They’re often happy to help connect their groups with community opportunities and can reach out to their contacts to provide feedback on your upcoming plan or link you directly to their connections.


Tip #2: Go where the people are.

Determine which online tools members of your community are already using (such as Facebook or Nextdoor) or physical places that they frequently attend (like a local grocery store or nearby church). You can leverage these existing platforms to start engaging with these audiences online or use this knowledge to find ways to share engagement opportunities with people at the places they often visit.


Tip #3: Be intentional when using social media to target key groups.

Using Social Media to Target Key Groups

Using social media can be a very cost-effective way to promote your public engagement opportunities and increase your level of participation. Making sure your posts are intentional will help you be the most effective online. For instance, make multiple posts about an engagement opportunity in a variety of languages to help target different groups!


Tip #4: Remember to offer low-tech techniques for participation.

It’s important to recognize that many have limited or no access to the internet at all. Be creative and think of alternative, low-tech methods for people to provide input such as in-person focus groups or print surveys that can be mailed directly to people’s front doors.


To learn more about the techniques behind achieving exceptional community engagement for small plans, check out our recent webinar for the full details:

How Online Public Engagement Takes Off

How Online Public Engagement Takes Off: Lessons from a Bikeway Study in NC

Industry experts from WSP, NC CAMPO and McAdams uncover how to reliably engage 1000s of participants regardless of the size of project.

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