The Future of Community Engagement

Almost every facet of society as we know it has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing planners to adapt their stakeholder engagement strategies in order to fulfil positive outcomes for communities.

With cities shut down to avoid the spread of COVID-19, the use of digital participation tools were quickly adopted to keep the conversations going online. At Social Pinpoint, we saw community engagement professionals rapidly adopt to our modernized world, sharing online resources, utilizing digital engagement tools and gathering insightful data that allowed them to understand the voices of the community and make informative decisions quickly and efficiently.

Recent discussions with Social Pinpoint clients revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted barriers with traditional engagement practices and identified the need to redesign outdated engagement methods to bring in modernized ‘hybrid participation strategies’ that promote greater engagement and collaboration amongst diverse audience groups.

Hybrid participation strategies provide communities with equitable and multidisciplinary engagement methods that enable individuals to voice and address challenges through a suite of adaptive tools that overcome language, cultural and social barriers, allowing wider audience groups within communities to mitigate and shape their own futures.

Through recent conversations with our clients, we have identified the following trends and themes in community engagement in 2021:

Re-shape your engagement toolbox

During the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional engagement methods have been refined and transformed to enable safe and informative public participation. Multidisciplinary approaches were rapidly adopted to reach wider, more diverse audience groups in real-time. Through a suite of intuitive tools, engagement professionals were able to easily identify the different audience groups they were engaging, the most successful platforms for participation, and the most effective tools to drive engagement across various audience groups. The seamless reporting functionalities of digital platforms such as Social Pinpoint, has enabled our clients to assess and redefine their most successful engagement tools, bringing these practices into future engagement strategies.

Create engagement opportunities through multiple tools

Not all digital platforms have equal audience representation. Using multiple engagement tools, you provide the community with options to share their ideas and thoughts, view others' feedback and join online community conversations.

Master community engagement by meeting people where they're at

The most effective way to approach community engagement is by allowing individuals to participate in a way that they find most accessible and comfortable (physical space, online or a combination of both). Through post-pandemic thinking, town and city planners are utilizing digital tools in traditional settings to support the facilitation of face-to-face engagement. Using online tools in traditional settings enables the ‘quieter majority’ to participate from their smartphone by posting their thoughts and suggestions to a Social Pinpoint project page in real-time, while in-room facilitation is taking place.

Develop trust within the community

Constant communication with community members is key before, during, and after any and all engagement events. Actively including community members in ongoing engagements and city-building processes is vital to understanding what those in the community actually need rather than assuming what they want. Digital platforms such as Social Pinpoint, enable you to continuously reach your community with ongoing communications in real-time to keep the community informed and engaged. Through Social Pinpoint, you can also leverage and access past project engagement data to understand and forecast issues before they arise.

Summary

COVID-19 has fast-tracked the use of digital tools to ensure a full representation of voices are heard across multiple viewpoints, ages, races, abilities, statuses and genders. Community engagement in a post-COVID world needs to be built on hybrid strategies that provide a stronger array of mixed engagement opportunities and greater accessibility across digital and traditional methods.

Supporting hybrid engagement strategies to build stronger communities, Becky Hirst, renowned Author and Global Community Engagement Thought Leader, spoke with Social Pinpoint exclusively on her findings from the past year. In our first installment of the #CovidConversations series, Becky details how she learnt that the community is more than ready to engage online and that we must not be afraid of moving forward.

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