Dave Biggs, MetroQuest’s Chief Engagement Officer, recently teamed up with community engagement superstars Darrel Cole and Lisa Hummel from WSP and Jamille Robbins from North Carolina DOT for our final webinar of 2020. During the hour-long discussion, the panelists explored how government agencies and planning firms all over the nation overcame engagement obstacles in 2020, providing us with industry insights into how to succeed moving forward and key tools and technologies for your 2021 community engagement toolbox.
Read on for the most effective tools for your online community engagement as well as our panelists’ predictions for planning in 2021! Don’t forget to check out the on demand recording for the full details and to claim your 1.5 AICP CM credit.
The Best Tools for Online Community Engagement in 2021
In the webinar, panelists uncovered their essential online engagement toolbox. They highlighted the importance of being flexible and selecting a tool based on a project’s unique needs, purpose and goals, and covered a few major categories of tools that are essential to any planner’s online engagement toolbox.
Jamille, Public Involvement Group Leader for North Carolina DOT, said that some of the leading tools in his toolbox include virtual meeting platforms, such as GoToWebinar, and project visualizations. His team also heavily leverages prerecorded videos that enable individuals to watch virtual town hall meetings at their convenience.
Lisa, Communications and Public Involvement Specialist at WSP, went on to share how beneficial interactive, real-time polling has been for her and her team. Tools like Poll Everywhere and Mentimeter have helped them make meetings more interactive, quickly gauge the public’s opinion, collect audience responses in real-time and provide the public with a safe and anonymous way to participate.
Darrel, VP and Managing Director of Communications and Public Involvement Practice at WSP, shared how beneficial MetroQuest has been for their team. Online surveys have come to the forefront of digital engagement and MetroQuest surveys have enabled WSP to significantly increase their participation levels, diversify their reach and collect quantifiable results to effectively make important planning decisions.
Finally, social media platforms, like Facebook and Nextdoor, are a leading promotion and communication tool for each of the panelists. They use social media platforms to target specific audiences and demographic groups, helping them target and engage with traditionally underrepresented communities that are oftentimes very hard to reach.
Predictions and Advice for Community Engagement in 2021
What will community engagement look like moving forward? While the engagement landscape is continually evolving, the panelists all agreed that virtual engagement is here to stay.
Traditional engagement methods, such as town-hall meetings, generate very low turnout and can have complications around anonymity and allowing attendees to feel safe enough to share opposing viewpoints. And even if in-person gatherings are permitted in the near future, planners nationwide are likely to take on a hybrid approach between in-person and online engagement. With the use of online engagement methods during 2020, many planning teams are even seeing higher engagement numbers! Many now know that most members of their community prefer to provide feedback and input online.
The panelists all suggested that one important piece of advice is to stay relevant. Public engagement underwent massive change during the COVID-19 pandemic, and will continue to evolve. For planners, it’s important to find solutions that meet the needs of the different stakeholder groups in your community and be creative with your strategies. Maintain momentum, not only to keep on top of trends in public engagement, but to continually develop ways to meet the community where they are.
Finally, the panel also advised planners to empower teams to take risks during these uncertain times. As 2020 proved, innovation and creativity allows planners to make people feel comfortable in uncertain times, helping them feel safe and connected in the community, both online and off.
2020 was a ‘Perfect Storm’ for Community Engagement
While conducting community engagement with virtual tools and online strategies has become increasingly popular over the years, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social distancing mandates accelerated the switch to virtual engagement for planners nationwide.
The panelists have all noticed an increase in public participation since the onset of the pandemic. The wide range of tools, strategies, resources and techniques accessible have enabled them to significantly increase engagement and widen and broaden their reach since March. While there will continue to be barriers to public participation, some of the tools identified during the uncertain year of 2020 helps to reduce participation barriers, allow planners to communicate with all stakeholder groups, tailor messages to each audience and avoid a “one size fits all” approach.
Community engagement will continue to change. By utilizing new ways to make connections with community leaders and groups to solicit feedback, planners can build closer connections with their audiences and create involved communities that contribute to building cities truly suit our needs.
To learn more about the trends and techniques for community engagement during COVID-19 and tips, techniques and tools to succeed in the new year, check out the webinar ‘Community Engagement During COVID-19: Planning Ahead for 2021’ for the full details.
Community Engagement During COVID-19: Planning Ahead for 2021
Industry leaders offer a sneak peek at the most effective community engagement strategies and technologies for 2021!