COVID-19 has taught us three things for sure about engaging people online:

  1. It removes barriers by eliminating travel time, travel costs, child care needs, and inconvenience;
  2. People get tired of engaging online as their sole way to participate; and
  3. Not everyone has easy access to or the aptitude for online engagement.

Combine the above with the fact that people have always had different preferences for how they like to be engaged, and that they face different time, mobility and financial constraints to engaging at all, it is clear that a hybrid online/in-person model for engagement events* should be delivered whenever possible, now and beyond the pandemic.

By now, you have no doubt used a number of online meeting platforms (e.g. Zoom). You have likely also used some online tools (e.g. polling, whiteboards, etc.) to help augment the online experience and effectiveness.

As COVID-19 continues, a hybrid model for meetings/events* offers the option to attend online and for some participants to attend in-person if desired/needed, held in a room large enough to accommodate physical distancing. Post-COVID-19, you will have fewer in-person protocols and logistics to worry about.

Either way, here are some practical tips to consider when designing a hybrid approach for your real-time engagement events* to ensure all participants can hear, be heard and participate effectively:

  • Use online engagement tools (e.g., polling, whiteboards, etc.) for both sets of participants, including those who are in-person. Online tools can make it easier to gather and record input than paper-based tools, and allows input from both sets of participants to be combined real-time.
  • Supply a few extra laptops in case some participants don’t have one and/or cell phones are too small for the platform being used. If supplying laptops is not possible, staff can enter in-person participant input into the tool(s) real-time. There are many tools to choose from, with the KISS rule applying here.
  • Consider having two hosts/facilitators; one responsible for the online participants, and the other responsible for those attending in-person since managing participants online and in-person can be challenging for a single host depending on numbers.
  • Project the online meeting platform onto a screen/wall and from a speaker in the room so everyone in the room can easily see and hear the online participants. Likewise, point a camera at the host(s)/facilitator(s) and, ideally, another at the in-person participants so those who are online can see and hear what’s happening in the room.
  • If you use breakout groups, keep it simple by grouping online participants together and in-person participants together, rather than mixing the two.

To learn more about making hybrid models of engagement fly in your community, contact Shannon at sgordon[at] or 604-906-0310.

*This post is about a hybrid approach to engagement events (town halls, workshops, open houses, etc.), allowing people to engage real-time either in-person or remotely. As has been best practice for some time, a mix of online and in-person engagement opportunities (e.g. online surveys/forums, in-person events, on-location comment cards, etc.) – not necessarity real-time – should be offered for most projects to make them more accessibility and inclusive.