The future of community engagement is online*

Community engagement is facing a turning point, and technology is now one of the best assets you have to get your community involved.

While traditional engagement activities like pop-ups in town centres and surveys will always be part of the process, it’s becoming more important for councils to utilise a range of tools and methods when engaging and building trust with the public.

Over the last 12 months, multimedia use within consultation projects has become an essential part of informing the community. Many projects now include videos embedded in the initial consultation, for example 3D renderings of infrastructure options. Videos are also used to support project context, and a range of interactive tools like maps can be used to source input to consultations. The use of this technology helps make it ‘shareable’, information on complex projects easier to understand, and promotes inclusive participation.

More advanced technology is also becoming more affordable and readily available. Only a few years ago, recording beautiful fly-over footage of the coast or large park could cost thousands of dollars, and required a helicopter, crew, and expensive cameras. Now, buying your own drone is a fraction of the cost, for the same footage that is great for web content. Councils are also running video and photo competitions to create multimedia assets for consultations.

Technology that is still a little while away from becoming ubiquitous, like virtual reality (VR), is becoming an increasingly popular way to increase participation. Moreton Bay Regional Council in Queensland utilised VR in a recent project to help participants experience a space that is yet to be created. Using VR allowed community members and stakeholders to experience the development proposals up close, prior to giving feedback via an online submission form.

Utilising social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to promote your council’s projects is a great way to find people where they already are. Almost a quarter of Australians on social media use it to follow brands or businesses, and this is something councils can leverage to share information and bring the community into your dedicated space. It’s also a great way to get your staff and councillors involved by sharing consultations with friends and family in the community.

As technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, it also has complex challenges that councils need to be aware of. As government organisations continue to collect data from their stakeholders and citizens, it’s crucial to have a rigorous approach to handling and storing sensitive data. This is especially important when considering the third-party sites you use, like Facebook or other information gathering tools. While you can spend time collecting likes and followers on social media, it’s important to understand who owns the data and who has the relationship with the community. Building trust with your community is the best way to ensure people want to contribute beyond a single consultation and become more involved in shaping the future of our communities.

*Copy Supplied by Bang The Table