What We Learned from our COVID-19 Roundtable Sessions

Over the last few weeks, we held a series of roundtable webinar sessions to enable community engagement professionals around the world to share ideas and ask questions around how they are engaging their community during social distancing enforcements.

Most public engagement professionals are still in the beginning stages of figuring out what works when engaging community and stakeholders during isolation. While these points are not the definitive answer on how to engage while social distancing, we pulled together some topics, ideas, and questions that came from these roundtable sessions.

We encourage you to use the comments section at the bottom of this article to share what has or hasn’t worked for you, ask questions, and have conversations.

Consultants are worried about future work

Many consultants are worried that their scope of work will begin to slow down as some projects aren’t moving forward or are being pushed back to a later date.

RFPs will begin to include more specific requirements around virtual meetings

As many projects are still moving forward, consultants are expecting RFPs to have more specific requirements around virtual meetings being included on their digital engagement platform.

 

Confusion about if we continue to engage on development projects or switch to focus more on COVID-19 efforts

This was a tricky topic as some people plan to focus strictly around COVID-19 efforts and resources while others plan to continue their consultations by moving them online. One of the greatest tips that we heard was to continue gathering feedback on projects in your community but with language surrounding the sensitivity to COVID-19.

 

Review of all digital channels

Many of you are reviewing all of the digital channels you already have to understand how best to utilize these channels during this time.

 

Transition to old-school methods

Many organizations are going back-to-basics for engagement. Many of you are making phone calls to stakeholders, advertising in local newspapers and sending out mailers to let the community know you are still listening.

Challenges with working remotely

With the ongoing public health situation, many employees are having to work from home. However, remote work may be new to a lot of people and can pose its own challenges. Here are a few of our tips!

  • Try to avoid distractions and create a similar environment to how you’d work while at work. If you typically wear headphones in the office then wear them while you’re working at home, too!
  • Get out of your PJs!
  • Go for a walk in the morning to get the day started.
  • Invest in a good home workspace – ensure it’s comfortable and enjoyable to spend time at.
  • Take a walk around the block a few times a day when you start to feel sluggish or distracted.

 

Embrace the static audience

You will never have as captive of an audience as you do right now! People are bored at home and what better way to make them feel connected with their community than to give them a platform where they can give feedback from the comfort of their own home.

 

Expect more online engagement after things go back to normal

Many community engagement professionals feel that they will have a much larger and more active online community audience. Let’s embrace this time by giving people a place they know they can always go to to get community information or have their say!

Social media campaigns

This was probably the most commonly mentioned way to reach community members during this time. We are all spending extra time on social media, so what better way to reach your stakeholders?

 

Controlling virtual meetings

It’s easy for loud, talkative, or opinionated stakeholders to try to take control of the conversation on virtual meetings or take up a lot of the speaking time. There are two very important things to plan for when hosting virtual meetings:

  1. Make sure every person in the meeting has time to speak if they want it.
  2. Make sure you have a process in place to document all of the feedback you receive.

 

Overall, the most important point that was made throughout all of these roundtable sessions is to surround all messages to your community to be sensitive around COVID-19, but give stakeholders something else to think about at the same time.

Please leave your comments and questions below! We want to keep this discussion open for community engagement professionals to continue sharing ideas and asking questions.