You can hold public meetings and announce them in the newspaper, of course. And it doesn’t take much more work to post them on Facebook. Who knows? Maybe someone will even comment or give you a “Like.”
If that pretty much sums up your city’s community engagement strategy, you’ve got a big problem…. And a big opportunity. There are so many innovative, exciting ways to do great community engagement these days, and cutting edge communities are inventing new ones every day. Whether you’re from a thriving metropolis or a one-stoplight town, trying some of these new tools (from the high tech to the low tech) should help you reach more people, get different kinds of participation and feedback, and change the way your community thinks, works, and plans.
You probably get the same 10 or 20 people showing up at all city meetings, right? We bet that if you run a community photography contest, you’ll attract dozens of people you’ve never seen at city hall. These simple activities can be designed with nearly any topic in mind (capture the Heart & Soul of your community, or your favorite cultural site, or the spot that most needs revitalization); can be organized on just about any timeframe and budget; and can be used to kick off larger projects, from fundraisers like community calendars to full-scale community planning and visioning processes.
Games are most definitely not just for kids. This online, interactive game, built by Emerson Professor Eric Gordon, brings people together over the course of several weeks to complete planning-themed missions. Players earn virtual currency, which they can “spend” on values that matter to them for the future of their community. Players walk away with a better understanding of planning, more interest and capacity to change their communities, and great ideas to take to decision-makers.
The holy grail of modern community meetings would be events where anyone could participate and chime in, from wherever they happened to be, in meaningful and collaborative ways. There are dozens of tools to help make that a reality, and these days, most of them have to do with connecting people digitally. We’re big fans of mixing and matching the right technologies for your town, and the heading “electronic town meetings” is a good catch-all. If you put all the pieces in place, it might look something like this: digitally record what happens at the event, share that with people who can’t be there in person (such as live-streaming video), and give them a way to add their own feedback, such as through surveys, Twitter, or other online platforms. If you want to get really fancy, keypad polling –handheld polling devices for use in meetings – can add another layer of excitement, engagement, and balanced participation.