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Digital Communications & Engagement Gives Voice to the Silent Majority

Engagement and communications provide a cornerstone for jurisdictions in their relationship with residents. Yet many communities still struggle to connect with their communities in a positive way. In a time where technology allows a broader reach in engagement efforts, many communities find that a “silent majority” still struggles to have their voices heard in a variety of areas that impact their daily lives.

Understanding this “silent majority” and taking steps to better connect with them can make significant increases in overall engagement for any jurisdiction.

What Is the Silent Majority?

Often, jurisdictions report that only a small group of “professional residents” engage through traditional methods of communication and outreach. The challenge for local governments lies in extending engagement beyond this vocal minority to assure that the wider community’s voices get heard.

Language translation and interpretation, as well as accessibility are just as critical as the communication and feedback channels themselves. If the information does not reach its audience, it is useless. If the information is not understood, it is equally ineffective. Finally, if there is no mechanism by which to collect feedback from residents, jurisdictions cannot make meaningful improvements.

How Hybrid Engagement Can Help Connections

Hybrid engagement is important because as we all learned the pandemic opened us up to a lot more engagement from constituents. We saw things like working parents that had never before attended a public meeting start joining in virtually to check it out and participate.

How do we continue to maintain this level of engagement into the future? It must be a hybrid solution. Technology is great and useful, but we know human connection is the driver of our communities. We need to be flexible and meet people where they are, rather than where we expect them to be.

We need to build that civic engagement muscle, and hybrid opens the door to people curious about government to get them the information that they are looking for. As engagement expands, we are better able to engage people long-term. A great example is a resident who signs up to receive a newsletter, then attends a public meeting they learn about in the newsletter, and then goes on to serve on a committee. That is real long-term engagement!

Here are some additional ideas that have proven to be successful when working with jurisdictions on these types of programs:

  • Leverage cable access channel partnerships to provide information that is both audible and captioned.
  • Use QR codes and partner with other government services – for example sending additional information with a services bill.
  • Hold virtual open houses and focus groups which allows people in different settings to be involved, and you obtain different types of valuable insights.
  • Be sure you are tracking! Reporting is key. When you can see a dashboard of all engagement efforts in one place that Is when you know you are heading in the right direction.

Creating a Regional Hybrid Engagement Hub

Don’t forget that there may be important voices and needs to consider from people who may not be official “residents.” Perhaps they live in a neighboring community but work, or bring their children to school, in yours. Perhaps they commute daily through your community on your roadways. Perhaps your residents use a major medical facility in a different city. One thing we have seen be greatly successful (this example comes from when Prieto served on the Metropolitan Area Planning Council in the Boston metro area) was the creation of a hybrid engagement hub that incorporated three municipal teams from Randolph, Framingham, and Dedham.

The effort began with workshops inviting over 160 community engagement practitioners across the country to discuss engagement challenges and opportunities. We involved educators to share their tips and tricks for successful engagement. We worked with policy experts to understand how to integrate engagement into policy opportunities at the local level. This team tested a synchronous hybrid event for a master plan process. A couple of great tools created included a meetings decisions cycle that helps guide making a decision on whether you want to host a synchronous hybrid meeting or not, and a step-by-step facilitation agenda of how to run a hybrid meeting.

Engagement Environments and Channels

Here at Granicus, our Government Experience Cloud solution includes modules for communications, engagement, and sentiment analysis. This empowers organizations to control the environments of their programs with varying levels of user permissions.

Open environment – all users can see all others’ comments and engage by adding their own comments to both the organization and to other users

Mixed environment – users can add their own comments and read the comments of others, but cannot engage directly with others

Controlled environment – comments and data are visible only internally to system administrators.

Our solutions offer different ways to engage people in the process, including mapping tools, forums, idea posters, guestbooks, questions, stories, polls and surveys. We find that providing a variety of options and channels results in greater and more meaningful engagement that is a proven game changer for improving services, programs and policies in local government.

Looking Forward

Jurisdictions can continue to transform how they communicate and engage with their public through easy and intuitive experiences that use the same channels residents rely on in their daily activities (cell phones, website, social media, etc.). In addition, these tools can help government personnel work more efficiently while providing better service, reaching and serving every constituent equally and inclusively.