Effective community engagement is crucial for project success, relying on meaningful feedback from residents. This feedback not only validates engagement efforts but also fosters valuable insights, strengthening the relationship between residents and government. To ensure your engagement efforts are impactful, consider asking three key questions.
- Is there a strategy to reach residents who most need to hear from us?
- Are residents receiving enough information to make informed decisions?
- Do we have a plan to distill and make sense of the input we receive?
Meaningful engagement requires more than just one-off online surveys or social media posts. It demands a thoughtful approach and the right online engagement strategy, supported by effective software. What are the key components of a successful online engagement strategy?
- Reach a representative and/or desired population.
- Educate the public on the issues at hand.
- Quickly analyze comments to find patterns and understand public sentiment.
- Lower barriers to participation through flexible online engagement formats.
Success Story: City of San Diego Parks & Recreation Master Plan
AECOM, a global engineering and design firm, demonstrated a successful engagement strategy in partnership with The City of San Diego. Acknowledging the importance of reaching underrepresented communities, particularly in the south side of the city, AECOM employed a combination of offline and online efforts.
Through social media targeting, AECOM was able to put emphasis on reaching residents in southern San Diego. In addition, both the Facebook posts and the project website itself were translated into Spanish. Recognizing the importance of lowering barriers to entry, the online engagement was setup to allow anonymous participation, and ask for contact information and demographics separately. Through this strategy, the project saw increase input from typically underrepresented voices, yielding more representative input: an equal distribution of where and who feedback was coming from.
Dynamic location question – AECOM was able to understand where participation was coming from and re-target “gap” areas.
Community engagement largely hinges on meeting people where they are – oftentimes literally. After initial project outreach, AECOM was able to identify gap areas and target them not just online, but also offline with pop-up style events at community centers in those same areas. At these informational sessions, The City of San Diego educated residents on the master plan and directed them to a website where they could provide feedback.
These in-person events:
- Reached a typically underrepresented group
- Educated residents on the issues at hand – creating more informed feedback
- Captured contact information and asked questions that mirrored the online engagement activities
With two more years to go on the project, AECOM’s work in San Diego has already engaged 1,800 participants who provided 58,000 responses to questions and contributed 6,000 comments.
6,000 comments sounds like a lot of work, right?
Not if you have engagement tools that help make sense of it.
Traditional qualitative analysis of comments can be painstaking. Oftentimes only the most extreme comments stick with us, which can be discouraging or steer a project in the wrong direction despite our best intentions. The ultimate question is: How do you turn qualitative comments into meaningful data?
If we can’t make sense of the comments we receive, then they really can’t be meaningful feedback.
Here’s how AECOM used online engagement software to understand comments:
- AI-powered smart tagging to group and analyze key themes and entities
- Tagging rules to automatically group and tag similar comments
- Sentiment analysis to understand which words and phrases were mentioned negatively, positively, or neutrally
- Visual analysis using smart word clouds and tag clouds
Not only does this approach leverage technology to save a lot of time, it also makes feedback more meaningful.
Success Story: How NCDOT Educates the Public with Engagement Hubs and Project Websites
Online engagement software opens doors to the creation of project websites and comprehensive engagement hubs, offering a diverse range of media to better inform the public before soliciting input. This approach not only enriches public understanding but also elevates the significance of the feedback received.
The NCDOT serves as a noteworthy example of a community engagement hub that leverages online engagement software. Residents visiting the NCDOT engagement hub can:
1. View all current projects and actively participate.
2. Access information on upcoming meetings and RSVP.
3. Subscribe to email or text updates for timely notifications.
4. Stay updated with the latest social posts from NCDOT.
Individual project websites within the NCDOT engagement hub feature introductory text and dynamic questions that surpass conventional surveys. These questions include visuals like photos and downloadable PDFs, offering a more comprehensive understanding of the project. For instance, graphics illustrating alternatives between proposed infrastructure changes enhance the visual appeal and informational depth.
Benefits of Dynamic Content and Engagement Sections
1. Informative and Engaging: The project website transcends the limitations of a stand-alone survey by incorporating dynamic questions, content, and comment sections.
2. Increased Confidence: As the public gains more knowledge, their confidence in contributing to the project grows, knowing that their feedback is informed and valuable.
3. Actionable Feedback: The interactive nature of the engagement hub ensures that feedback received is actionable, contributing to the project’s success.
Encouraging Resident Engagement
Residents are encouraged to provide contact information on project websites, facilitating follow-ups by the NCDOT to close the loop on communication. This personalized approach ensures that residents are involved throughout the project lifecycle.
Simplified Project Website Creation
Creating a project website is a straightforward process with drag-and-drop functionality:
1. Add a banner image and project description.
2. Incorporate dynamic questions to engage users effectively.
The NCDOT’s engagement hub serves as a compelling example of how online engagement software can transform public participation. By providing a comprehensive and interactive platform, project websites and hubs not only educate the public but also empower them to contribute meaningfully, fostering a more informed and engaged community.
A successful community engagement strategy involves a combination of online and offline efforts, leveraging the right tools and software to reach diverse populations, educate the public, and make sense of the feedback received. By learning from real-life examples, such as AECOM’s work in San Diego and the NCDOT’s engagement hub, communities can build stronger connections and foster meaningful participation in important projects.
Learn More About PublicInput
PublicInput is the only community engagement platform that solves every dimension of your public engagement process, so you can better reach, engage, understand, and communicate with your residents. Request a demo, today!