We decided to pick the brains of our founders, Anna and Maarit, for some advice on how you can facilitate participation online in these times when the coronavirus has forced to shift e.g. working habits, and more people work from home. Before Maptionnaire, they both did research on online public participation at Aalto University, so they are real experts on the matter.
We hope these tips can help you continue your work even during these times when face-to-face meetings are not taking place.
Identify the Needs and Value of Community Engagement for Your Project in an Online Meeting
Brainstorm and share your thoughts with your colleagues that are working on the same project. Get together by using online meeting tools such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Skype. Some guiding questions for your discussion could be:
- What should you tell about your project to the public? What is going to change in their environment? What is the timeline?
- Which are the things in your project that will be decided upon in a way that the community can have their say?
- What are the data needs for your project where the community has tacit knowledge that should be tapped into?
- Whom are you trying to target?
- How are you going to reach out to your community?
Choose the Right Tools and Methods
Research the tools and channels that you’re planning to use to enable a hassle-free process. These are highly dependent on the audience you’re aiming to reach. Now more than ever, it is essential that the participation process is inclusive, and all those affected by changes in their surroundings can have a say in these changes. In order to be more inclusive, the process needs different tools in different phases.
When you aim to discover baseline data in the early phases of your project, you want to target large groups of people. You probably want to gather information and insights to guide your planning work. Then it’s wise to use structured methods such as online surveys.
In later phases, you want to work on the data and other knowledge you’ve acquired in the early stages of your project. You want to define and develop your thoughts, identify problems, and come up with solutions. Then you typically want to invite those more interested in putting more effort into the project. Using online methods in this phase could mean using different virtual conference or meeting platforms, online video chat applications, and other collaboration tools, where people can interact with each other and have their say.
Our advice is to be bold and not to be afraid of experimenting! The expected favorable scenario is that you will have valuable data at your hands, as well as a group of enthusiasts who work with you in refining the project with their input. The community will undoubtedly appreciate your effort.
Make the Process Transparent and Share What You’ve Learned
It’s important to communicate how your process is moving forward, what has been done and what is about to happen. It’s also important to show what kind of feedback or input has been gathered, and how it will be used. Visualizing the data as well as reporting can be done with many different tools, some of which even allow publishing the data online in real-time as it is being compiled. Our tools of choice for these kinds of processes are Maptionnaire, QGIS, and Carto.
If you want to get more tips on how to continue your work with public engagement online, watch a recording of our webinar! This webinar is a wonderful resource adding up to the tips you’ve already gotten from this post. You’d need to register with your email to access the recording.
From the webinar recording, you will learn:
- How to do participatory planning and community engagement digitally
- What online tools there are available and how can you benefit from them
- How you can continue your work even if you’ve started planning a physical workshop
- Other tips for keeping your projects going under these special circumstances.
We hope these tips will help you carry on with your work and the planning processes at hand. In the meantime, we are offering expertise for anyone from our community interested in online engagement.