Tips for Engaging Your Community

While the COVID-19 crisis has created tragedies and unearthed tremendous inequities, out of a challenging crisis can come opportunity – foundations shift enough that cracks become visible and new possibilities emerge. Use this time to engage your community in practical, yet inspired, discussions about what’s possible as you plan your community’s COVID-19 recovery.

If your recovery planning has been underway with a small group of stakeholders and/or partners, and you haven’t yet asked the broader community for input, it’s not too late; better to engage them now than never. Keep the planning going and make the plan public. Be clear that it’s a working document and an iterative process. Gather feedback on the plan and publicly release new versions as it changes based on input from various partners, committees and the broader community.

If you don’t yet have a recovery plan, gather feedback on priorities that can guide recovery planning and budgeting, and ask community members for specific recovery ideas. Your plans should reflect recent shifts in community priorities while also keeping an eye on your community’s long-term vision and goals for the future. That long-term vision is your North Star; it was created to keep you on course, especially during stormy events such as this.

Regardless of where you are at in recovery planning, use a variety of tools to engage your community in the process. A virtual town hall or open house is great for some, but events and meetings don’t work for everyone, so use other tools that allow people to provide input in ways that are convenient and comfortable for them. Consider enabling community members to host their own dialogue sessions either virtually when it works for them or in-person within their expanded social bubble for those who are craving actual face-time and are tired of screen-time.

Some things to keep in mind as you engage the community:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted different people in different ways;
  • Recovery for some people will be relatively easy, and for others it may be ground-shifting;
  • Be sensitive to, and identify ways for, addressing equity and accessibility in your engagement tactics;
  • The people you may most need to hear from may be the most difficult to reach;
  • Be really clear on why you’re engaging and what you’ll do with what you hear.

Being honest and empathetic will help in navigating the uncertainty that lays ahead, and in weathering future challenges related to service levels, taxes, and economic slowdown more generally. Reassuring community members that they will be included in the conversations that matter will also help. If people are inspired to think about what’s possible moving forward, as a community, you may just discover silver linings and opportunities emerging from this crisis.

To discuss how to shape your community’s COVID-19 recovery planning and engagement, please contact Shannon: