Survey Design & Outreach Tips

5 Ideas for Enriching a Community Engagement Workshop with Digital Participation Tools

October 17, 2019
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A community engagement workshop engages residents, stakeholders, and other interested parties around a planning project. For example, a redevelopment of an old factory building in the neighborhood or the creating of a new masterplan for a town. Planners value these deep conversations with residents and leave a workshop full of insights.

Planners use these workshops as a tool to get a better understanding of people’s experiences and gather some preliminary ideas for future developments. Also, workshops are often organized later in the planning process, when stakeholders convene to discuss proposals. 

Anyways, community engagement workshops have a solid place in a participation toolkit. And they won’t go anywhere even given the abundance of community engagement platforms that allow them to engage more residents with better efficiency. 

But Instead of positioning online and offline methods against each other, let’s think of them as ways of engaging that actually complement each other. Community engagement workshops and other on-site events (like town hall meetings and citizens’ panels) are a great opportunity to bridge the gap between various types of participation.

Below are five ideas for running in-person community engagement workshops with digital tools.

1. Collect Data at a Community Engagement Workshop

Community meetings are used for collecting new ideas and discussing them more thoroughly. The information gathered at the meeting can be entered into a digital tool on-site or afterwards.

Working on-site is helpful when gathering information from people who might need help with using the tool, such as elderly or children. Another option is to work on paper maps in the workshop and to enter the data into a digital, map-based survey afterwards.

Read more about how Gruppe F has used Maptionniare to collect ideas at their in-person community workshops.

2. Explore and Discuss Collected Data at a Workshop

At a workshop, you might be exploring data that has been collected earlier, and reviewing drafts of plans. Community engagement workshops offer a great opportunity to data and the plans face-to-face. This is a great example of preparatory planning participation.

For instance, you can use touch tables to spice up a conversation at a workshop because it’s easier to visually demonstrate the results gathered. This makes it easier for the participants to understand opposing views.

Here you can find out more about different types of community engagement and what kind of tools and channels can help you implement them.

3. Use Community Engagement Workshops at Different Phases of the Planning Process

An engagement workshop can be used in different phases of a planning process. It can function as an event where you gather ideas in the initiation phase, or later on you can get comments about draft plans.

Early stages

At the early stages of the planning process, you can use community engagement tools to ask which places people like or dislike or what ideas they might have for improvement.

Presenting plans / commenting phase

When you present your plans at an event, use tools like Maptionnaire to visualize your findings and collect comments directly related to specific plan solutions. Maptionnaire can be used in the commenting phase for collecting opinions about one plan, or for comparing several alternatives. 


Although online participation offers more flexibility, community engagement workshops are also suitable for capturing feedback about a new development plan or a transportation network.

Using an online engagement tool like Maptionnaire will help you structure this feedback, connect it to specific locations, and save time when analyzing it. What’s more, you can immediately send a copy of responses to the town hall or the respondents. 

But workshops are not ideal for gathering feedback about smaller things that need to be fixed, let’s say a broken street lamp. In these cases, use digital participation tools. It’s easy to take a picture with your phone and pin the location where something needs attention.

4. Co-design Together With Citizens

The content for an online, map-based questionnaire can be designed together with citizens and experts – either separately or together. Cooperation improves transparency and inclusivity in the participation process. Bringing citizens to design the data collection also creates a group of evangelists for your project and ensures a good reach. 

If you co-create the survey together, the credibility of the survey and the project increases, like in the case of Helsinki’s national urban park project where the city planners and park activists created the questions for the survey together at a workshop.

5. Use Digital Tools in Tailored Engagement Workshops 

Instead of organizing an open workshop for all residents, the scope of participants can be restricted to a special focus group. For instance, children and elderly usually need special attention. Children are quite tech savvy nowadays but they need help with understanding the questions. Elderly people on the other hand might need help with the equipment and technology when answering an online survey. 

Read more about Maptionnaire being used in a workshop that introduced city planning for kids and helped them formulate their ideas and experiences.

At the other end of the spectrum, landowners, entrepreneurs, and investors usually have a different approach to urban planning questions. Reaching a consensus might be easier if each participant is allowed to answer an online map-based survey individually, and the results are explored after that in the workshop.

This was the case with the Iijoki river project where Maptionnaire helped with creating a survey together with different interest groups involved in the project at a face-to-face workshop, and the final online survey was then approved by all the parties and distributed to residents for responding.


5 ideas for Community Engagement Workshops
Any community engagement workshop can become more interactive with online public participation tools — here are just 5 ideas.


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