With continued COVID 19-driven limits on large gatherings, parents juggling kids and work at home and daily routines disrupted, businesses and public-sector organizations need to be more creative – and patient – in how they’re fostering connections with community members. Community engagement is not only necessary but also required for many public- and private-sector projects and initiatives. With many projects continuing to move forward despite the pandemic, here are three things project planners should consider when reaching stakeholders today.
- Have a plan, but be flexible in how you implement it: Every project or initiative needs a community engagement roadmap with clear objectives, identified target audiences and established parameters for how often the company should engage with the community. Plans also should establish a protocol for correcting misinformation. However, rather than plotting activities against a timeline, consider a more flexible approach. Set broad goals for when you’d like to reach your target audience and what you’d like to tell or ask them – this will enable the team to tailor outreach tactics and messages based on the current environment and allows the timeframe for engagement to be stretched, if needed. As always, tactics should be evaluated on an ongoing basis and tailored to the needs of the specific audience.
- Get creative: There are several ways to reach audiences even if you can’t reach them in person. If you’re looking to create a dialogue with community members and stakeholders, consider a telephone town hall, virtual video meeting or a two-way texting platform. If you’re looking to share information or project updates, a project-specific online website or microsite with information and videos from project leaders, social media, text/radio updates, and direct mail are all efficient ways to reach audiences. Partnerships with local influencers or community leaders can also help to disseminate information. And, depending on where you are, you may not need to rule out in-person community engagement activities entirely – it could be possible to plan an outdoor or even indoor town hall meeting if the number of attendees is limited and proper safety measures in line with local/state regulations (i.e. masks, cleaning, distancing, etc.) are in place. Lastly, always ask the community how they want to be reached – this may spark some new ideas for engaging with them in a positive and meaningful way.
- Foster two-way communications: First, all tactics should allow for two-way communication to encourage sharing of feedback and asking of questions – even if it’s a project phone number or email address that folks can use. This feedback can and should be used to drive future community engagement plans. Second, since community outreach often is a condition of government consent in the form of project permits and approvals, project managers should seek input on what modes of community outreach will be acceptable in order to fulfill requirements. Lastly, as you seek input from communities on pending projects, gain an understanding of community needs and priorities the project sponsor could address, as part of a win/win accommodation or agreement.
There are several ways to approach community engagement so that it fosters meaningful connections with stakeholders and captures helpful feedback for project leaders. Learn more about our six-step community engagement process and how we can support your stakeholder engagement needs, or if you’re working on a community engagement plan and would like support, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.