Dear Local Government Official,
Imagine this scenario: your organization has launched a large-scale community project that not only affects a good portion of the population, but is fraught with environmental and public health concerns, controversy, and stokes mistrust from the public.
The first few public meetings you hold have garnered large numbers of concerned residents — emotions are running high. Your community project involves taking something away from the public due to health concerns and public safety, and it’s imperative that you communicate the issues effectively, bring people together, and listen to their ideas for potential solutions. Community outreach and education will be essential.
That’s how it started. Here’s how it’s going . . .
The Challenges of Community Outreach for Your Project
As hundreds of residents file into your city hall for a public meeting, the team members at the registration/information table are greeted by angry and frustrated people. The attendees have encountered the first local staff and they want their ear; they want to engage. But the team members are busy with sign-in sheets, handouts, and answering questions about the meeting. They just don’t have time to record the feedback being shared there.
The morning after the meeting, elected officials and stakeholders are asking for specific data on the community sentiment around the project, and they want it right away. But the project team has hundreds of comments, in at least six different places, to compile. There are hand-written comment cards from the meeting, email comments, survey feedback through a third-party tool that needs to be formatted, and your multiple social media channels have so many comments and questions that the communications team is going cross-eyed.
Additionally, the elected officials need speaking points as soon as possible for the local news channels that are requesting interviews the day after the meeting.
On top of all this, you still have residents who didn’t get a chance to speak at the public meeting and they don’t feel heard. They email long comments to the project team, adding another layer of feedback to be sorted and reported upon.
Community Engagement Can Help Fight Local Misinformation
Meanwhile, rumors, questions, and confusion about the community project spread like wildfire on your organization’s Facebook page, or perhaps on NextDoor. The comments section is many layers deep, and the team can’t keep up with finding, answering, or dispelling rumors about the project. You find out too late that residents have created a Facebook group purely to protest the project. Misinformation within this group is a real issue.
Multiple versions of maps are created to illustrate points about the project area. Static PDF maps have to be continually re-uploaded to the website, printed out for public meetings, and outdated versions floating around only add to confusion and rumors as the project evolves.
If that wasn’t enough, the platform that your government website is hosted on is antiquated and clumsy to use. The team wastes time dealing with glitches, delays, the IT helpdesk, and inefficient technology.
Feeling a little stressed?
We don’t blame you.
If you’re working in local government on community outreach for a local project, you likely don’t have to try very hard to imagine the above scenario. You’re probably seeking solutions that work with your limited resources, while also improving project outcomes and community relationships. Successful outreach requires clear communication, as well as ease of data analysis. The project team can make more informed decisions with effective community outreach.
This scenario underscores an important question: Why is community engagement important?
The Need for Resource Efficiency on Public Projects
Managers and directors of public organizations are often faced with limited resources and staff that are stretched thin. Teams are often juggling multiple public projects at a time, and inefficient processes bog things down. Wrangling multiple tools tracking resident feedback, many of them third-party, and compiling analytics from different sources complicates things.
The value of having community surveys, comments, project studies, maps, forums, and other engagement tools in one place cannot be overstated. It’s not only that a central place for community engagement saves the project team time, but it also builds trust within the community as they witness their local government actively seeking their feedback. Online engagement creates a safe and easy space for them to let their voices be heard. A one-stop hub for community outreach also fosters communication among residents, something that’s helpful for even more data-rich insights.
You may have guessed it by now: we’re referring to online community engagement. We encourage you to explore the value of online engagement and take a look at how we assess the value of digital community engagement.
Conducting Online Community Outreach for Your Project
Digital community engagement software helps local government agencies avoid inefficient and resource-intensive processes. EngagementHQ centralizes community engagement, making it easy to capture, analyze, and report on city-wide engagement through one single platform.
The EngagementHQ tools offer solutions to the challenges that we discussed at the beginning of this article. The robust survey and reporting tools make it easy to gather and compile data and provide it to stakeholders. Sentiment analysis offers insightful information into the public’s perception and overall sentiment around a project, be it positive, neutral, mixed, or negative. Advanced text analysis makes online community outreach more approachable.
Project maps take on new life within EngagementHQ by offering engaging and interactive maps for the public to drop pins upon and leave comments. Prior to publishing your project page, the Draft Share function allows for an easy and efficient internal approval process.
How Online Community Engagement is Being Utilized Around the World
At Woollahra Libraries in New South Wales, Australia, they use online community engagement to enable residents to register for focus groups and learn about in-person community events. See engagement in action on their community site, ‘Your Say Woollahra’.
In 2019, Halton Hills Hydro launched a customer engagement website with EngagementHQ to gather input for their five-year planning process. The site entitled, ‘Have Your Say Halton Hills Hydro’, was used to capture customer feedback as the utility developed its 2021-2025 Distribution System Plan.
“Gaining input from a wide range of customers is an important part of our planning process,” said Art Skidmore, President & CEO of Halton Hills Hydro, “This online platform provided us with an innovative way to engage with our customers in an extremely cost-efficient manner.”
Looking for a better way to analyze feedback and support decision-making? See how government organizations, like Bayside Council during their annual benchmarking review, receive clear data results with EngagementHQ.
Digital Community Outreach: Fostering Team Efficiency and Local Trust
When your team experiences elevated public interest in a project, they really begin to understand why community outreach is important. Now, it’s time to level up. Online community involvement engages more people in a manner that’s easy for them and helps the agency realize efficiencies across multiple resources such as time, data management, team workflows, and cost. Add to this the fact that the more solicitous local government is of community feedback, the more the community members trust in their public leaders. Now you have a solution that’s a win-win across the board.
Take a Peek at EngagementHQ to see how easy it is to create and manage an impactful engagement site.