Our research over the last few months has teased out some interesting trends and best practices that might help you raise the community engagement bar in 2020 and beyond. The research is part of a engagement review and policy development project we’re currently conducting that will also deliver a detailed resource guide to help staff design and execute better engagement aligned with the policy.  

This summary distills some of the key findings from our research to date – welcome to 2020! 

Societal Trends  

Community members are dramatically more educated than they were a century ago, but they are more skeptical; they have more capacity, but are dedicating less time to participate in community processes; they want institutions and officials to treat them like adults, rather than children. We need to make engagement more meaningful and convenient, and the information more accessible and bite-sized, yet still informative.  

People are forming huge webs of personal, political, and place-based relationships; mobilization can happen at an unprecedented speed and scale. Harnessing social media to not only reach but also engage community members – including youth – is critical; the challenge is to gather meaningful input from these channels. 

Demographics are changing, including a growing proportion of seniors and increasing cultural and language diversity. We need to make sure these groups can access and understand the information and can participate in the process in a way that is meaningful to them. 

The importance of reconciliation has come to the fore, requiring engagement that honours Indigenous cultures and approaches.  

Engagement Trends 

Government must work harder to earn and keep trust. We need to be clear about what we’re engaging on – what’s on the table and what’s not. Then, we need to consider the input, reflect the input in the work where possible, and report back transparently as to why the input did or didn’t influence the decisions.  

Engagement is becoming more engaging. Say good-bye to the traditional open house format that merely provides one-way information. Open houses need to be more interactive and gather information that is more structured and useful for decision-makers.  

It’s no longer enough to say, “They were invited.” We have to make it easy for community members to participate; we need to offer a mix of in-person, on-location and online opportunities whenever possible. 

Technology and social media continue to evolve and provide new and improved communication and engagement channels. The challenge is in tracking, moderating and analyzing the input.  

Engagement Best Practices 

This is a partial list of some of the emerging engagement best practices we have identified to date through our scan to address some of the societal and engagement trends above.  

  • Formalized engagement standards, systems and resources, including a Council policy, staff toolkit and training, a knowledgeable resource team, and monitoring and reporting. 
  • Dedicated engagement platforms, offering one-stop-shop for all engagement opportunities that community members can participate in.  
  • ‘On-location’ engagement at existing stakeholder and public gatherings, and at key community locations to make participation convenient for citizens.  
  • Texting apps for short surveys are more conversational and allow participants to answer questions over time when they have time.  
  • Text analysis and analytics can be used to better harness social media input and to more quickly code open ended survey input. 
  • Video helps to make your engagement process and project information more accessible to more people.  
  • Place-based 311 reporting apps allow community members to provide helpful input to you 24/7 about specific locations, helping you manage community infrastructure and assets and address problems faster and more efficiently.  

Is your team interested in conducting a review of your engagement processes, creating an engagement policy and/or developing a resource guide to help staff design and execute better community engagement? If so, contact Shannon Gordon by email at sgordon@whistlercentre.ca to learn more.