Assessing the Cost of Online Public Participation

Assessing the Cost of Online Public Participation
This blog was originally published on April 29, 2015.

In today’s day and age, community engagement budgets seem to be shrinking, while the public’s expectations for exceptional outreach efforts only seem to increase. Luckily, the wide array of online public engagement tools available today make meeting your community engagement targets and achieving your goals easy and cost-effective!

Online tools can help you increase your public participation while saving you valuable time and money.

Traditional Public Engagement

It’s no secret that traditional public meetings can be labor intensive and costly. A single public meeting can cost $10,000 or more when expenses for things such as preparation, staffing, follow-up and facilities are added up. And in many cases, you often end up hosting several public meetings, without certainty that you’ll actually reach people in the community.

Digital tools, such as online surveys, have helped planners across the nation engage with 1000s of participants online for only a fraction of the cost of a public meeting. Let’s explore how one planner saved thousands of dollars by making the switch to online engagement…

Case Study: Comparing the Cost of In-Person and Online Public Engagement

Scott Gero, Associate VP of Transportation at AECOM, worked to achieve the broadest public input possible while working with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) on their State Route 20 Improvement Project. In a span of 8 months, his team held 4 public meetings and used MetroQuest’s online surveys in a parallel process.

Let’s compare the results:

For the traditional public meetings, the primary costs were associated with display preparation, advertising, travel expenses, equipment, facility rentals and staffing. The outcome? A total of 893 attendees throughout the 4 events, providing 416 formal comments.

Compared that to their MetroQuest surveys. For creating an online engagement survey, costs were related to the prep work, the software subscription, and the labour to monitor and tally the survey data. The result? Over 7,555 site visitors that provided 90,803 ratings, rankings, votes and comments over the course of the survey period.

“The cost of using MetroQuest was about 15-25% of the cost of our traditional public meetings and we had 10 times more people participate. We found MetroQuest to be a very cost-effective way to broaden our public involvement.” – Scott Gero, Associate Vice President of Transportation (Georgia), AECOM

Online Public Engagement

$500 to $1,000 per participant is not an uncommon amount for traditional public meetings. Online engagement can drive that number down to $5 per participant or less. If cost-effectiveness is measured in terms of cost per participant, there is a clear difference in cost-effectiveness between traditional public meetings and online engagement!

The lesson here is that by using online engagement tools, you can reduce the number of public meetings that you have to hold in order to meet your engagement objectives, while saving time and money. You can then dedicate more of your budget to other high-impact initiatives.

There are huge benefits to improved public involvement. By utilizing digital engagement tools, planners can engage more broadly, gaining more community support and moving forward with implementation more easily and cost-effectively. Overall, digital engagement tools enables a type of public engagement that saves far more money than it costs.


To learn more about using online surveys to cost-effectively conduct community engagement, check out our webinar: Optimizing Online Engagement for Planning with MetroQuest.

Webinar: Optimizing Online Engagement for Planning with MetroQuest

Optimizing Online Engagement for Planning with MetroQuest

This deep-dive session is the fastest way to get up to date on MetroQuest and a wide range of other tools and best practices for optimizing public engagement for planning.

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