07 May 2021

3 ways engagement has changed forever

Guest blog: Matthew Salisbury, Sales Director, Civica Involve as part of our #DigitalPlace week

When we entered lockdown for the first time in March 2020, little did we know that Community Engagement would change not just for the remainder of the year, but quite possibly forever. 

But what changed, and why forever? 

Here are the trends that emerged during the pandemic and the subsequent consequences and key learnings for engagement: 

Online and digital engagement increased, while face-to-face engagement decreased 

It may be a no brainer that engagement moved online with more webinars, online meetings, surveys, online panels, and consultation pages than ever before. However, an interesting observation was that digital engagement wasn’t limited to those who normally engage in offices moving online. Instead, people who had never engaged before started to get involved in consultations. Furthermore, many of the new people engaging were from demographics that are typically hard to reach. 

It turns out that face-to-face engagement isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. This proved to be particularly true for people who don’t speak English as a first language. After all, how would you feel about standing up in a room full of people and discussing a topic in your non-native language? 

KEY LEARNING: Post-pandemic, you should continue to invest in online and digital community & stakeholder engagement to continue providing more people with the opportunity to engage, and to make engaging more accessible across the community. 

The time of day when engagement happens changed, and people had more time available when working from home 

Traditionally, face-to-face engagement would take place at times convenient for those working 9-5, meaning consultations would often happen in the evening around 6pm. Sounds reasonable, but what about those who don’t work 9-5, or parents with young families who are dealing with the daily bed time routine?  

As engagement moved online during the pandemic, the need to hold sessions at specific times decreased. At the same time, people were working from home, allowing them to have more time and flexibility. We started to see engagement rates increase, simply because more people now had the opportunity to get involved. 

KEY LEARNING: It isn’t just how you engage, it’s also when you engage that makes the difference in reaching your community and achieving high engagement rates. 

Innovative and creative engagement was forced to find ways to scale 

Engagement in the physical world does a great job of inspiring consultation and deliberation through interactive and creative sessions that are typically face-to-face, often with a small number of people. These types of sessions provide a rich source of information for decision makers.   

As the pandemic forced engagement online, engagement professionals were faced with a challenge: how could interactive and creative engagement, which motivates a wide range of demographics to get involved while providing unique insights, be moved online and scaled across communities? 

The results were inspiring, with the creation of engagement experiences such as: self-guided walking tours that ask for feedback along the way, love letters that allow people to openly express their feelings, and innovative speech-to-text technology that enabled people to give their opinion by simply leaving a voice message. It was a far cry from a traditional online survey and helped reached broader and more diverse demographics. 

KEY LEARNING: Just because engagement is digital doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Explore fun and innovative ways of blending physical and digital engagement to scale engagement across your community. 

In summary, the changes forced upon us because of the pandemic had the unexpected effect of helping to address some of the biggest challenges facing engagement. In particular, the need to engage a cross section of the community that accurately represents all demographics. When the luxury of face-to-face engagement returns, it’s vital that we remember the lessons learned through engaging during the pandemic and continue to invest in online and digital engagement.