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  • Success Story
  • Georgian Bluffs, Ontario

How Georgian Bluffs Expanded Engagement in their Rural Community

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The idyllic landscapes of Georgian Bluffs, Ontario, may offer peaceful scenes, but the township’s 11,000 residents were eager to engage on topics ranging from short-term rentals to local livestock ordinances. EngagementHQ provided the tools to create a digital transformation and a hub for local engagement, participation, and transparency. 

“Our philosophy around engagement is: We want to talk to our residents. We want to hear from them. It's important for their voices to be involved in their local government. EngagementHQ makes it so much easier for us to act on that.”
Hailey Thomson, Communication Specialist, Georgian Bluffs, Ontario


  • 3500 visitors to site in two months
  • 1500+ interactions in two months
  • 500+ responses to short-term accommodations (STA) survey 
  • 7 projects launched in first two months
Must have Granicus Solutions

Improving Two-Way Communication in a Rural Township

Sitting on the edge of the Georgian Bay in Southern Ontario, Canada, the township of Georgian Bluffs offers idyllic views of the bay and further access to Lake Huron. The beautiful waterfront, scenic views, and rural rolling hills make attractive landscapes for both visitors and the 11,000 residents who call Georgian Bluffs home. 

“We don’t really have a sort of urban center,” said Hailey Thomson, Communication Specialist for Georgian Bluffs, which places a high value on her office providing outreach that engages residents on a wide variety of topics impacting Georgian Bluffs. 

Previously, those engagements took the form of in-person Town Hall meetings, information sessions, and the odd survey. Faced with the pandemic in 2021, however, forced a change that she said the town had already started to consider. 

“We had no digital platform for engagement, and we really saw a need to get a little bit more digital with our services,” she said. “Even though we are a rural community and a lot of people still like doing things in person, there’s so much we can do online. Especially through the pandemic, it really drove us to meet this need for engagement to move into a digital space.” 

Thomson added that the desire for a digital solution was intended not just to overcome pandemic restrictions, but also to develop more ways to hear from the community and open up two-way communication. 

“We wanted more than just someone handing in a hard copy survey and never really knowing where that feedback has gone,” she said. “We wanted to create spaces where we could engage with people and keep them updated on a project all the way through its life cycle.” 

As the pandemic waned, a new issue rose to prominence in the picturesque Georgian Bluffs area: short-term rentals. With the increased popularity and potential impacts it could bring to a community such as Georgian Bluffs, Thomson said the time was right to make a digital transformation. 

“Short-term accommodation is a hot topic for local governments everywhere,” she said. “We knew we wanted to do a lot of community engagement on it. We had heard from people who were having issues with neighboring properties, we had heard from a couple of operators, but there was a really large piece of the community that we hadn’t heard from at all.” 


Building A Digital Hub for Hot-Topic Issues

When the decision to integrate digital engagement software was made, Thomson’s experience immediately led her to EngagementHQ. Having used this platform in a previous role in nearby Owen’s Sound, she knew that the platform offered features that would help bring success to the engagement goals in Georgian Bluffs. 

“We did look to see if there was anything else comparable,” she said. “But we didn’t really find anything that was as purpose-built specifically for the kind of projects and the kind of engagement that we wanted to do, and how easy the software is to set up and to manage was a huge selling point. We got it up and running really quickly.” 

Using EngagementHQ, Thomson’s team created Engage GB, a hub where residents could find information about ongoing and upcoming projects the township was undertaking. When Engage GB was ready to launch in 2022, Thomson made sure that the projects featured were ones that would draw audience attention. 

“We really wanted to launch strong,” she said. “So, we picked topics that we knew were going to be of high interest to the community, that were a little bit controversial, and that were also important for us to get feedback on.” 

With that in mind, the hot-button short-term rental topic was an early target for the new website.  

“We had all these different user groups that we wanted to talk to,” said Thomson. “And the survey logic (in EngagementHQ) was really helpful. We had people identify how they fit into the big picture of short-term accommodations, and then the survey presents different questions based on how they identify themselves.” 

Thomson added that by having the survey serve respondents questions based on their role in short-term rentals, it helped better identify operators, neighbours, visitors, and others who were interested in ordinances even if they were not actively involved with a rental property. That, in turn, she said, allowed Georgian Bluffs staff to better understand how to connect with their residents around management ordinances and other policies. 

Another early survey target focused on a more personal agricultural issue: backyard chickens. Just as with short-term rentals, raising and housing chickens in neighborhoods also can create contentious issues for both the township and its population. Creating a space for engagement around the subject was another high-interest target for Thomson’s staff.  

“We’re a large municipality with a lot of agricultural land with chickens,” she said. “But we do have a few densely populated neighborhoods where residents have expressed interest in having backyard chickens. How can we engage around that issue and connect with those interested?” 



A Home for Engagement on a Variety of Topics

In the two months after launching Engage GB, Thomson’s assumptions and strategy have been proven through strong public response. From a community of 11,000, the site has seen 3,500 visitors with over 1,500 interactions and more than 500 survey responses on the seven projects included in the initial launch.  

“I think having the right projects when we launched was a huge factor to why we were so successful, so quickly,” Thomson said. “Word spread fast. Everybody wanted to have their say, and we’ve gotten high engagement numbers quickly because of that.” 

Other projects, including a project to update a local sports facility and an annual community calendar photo contest, reflect Georgian Bluff’s dedication to involving their community in a variety of conversations, and valuing their engagement. Thomson said that thanks, in part, to the flexibility that Engagement HQ provides in creating Engage GB, it’s easy to create opportunities to open conversations on a just about any topic. 

“We can engage on large topics and smaller things just as easily,” she said. “And we’re thinking of more things that we can engage on, because the tool just makes it so easy. Even if it’s something small, we can just quickly put together a page and a poll, or a page and a forum and get that engagement up and running smoothly.” 

Beyond the metrics, Thomson said that the word of mouth that continues to grow around Engage GB promises a strong future for the site.  

“The stats are pretty encouraging, and the general feedback has been positive as well,” she said. “People are happy to have the chance to provide feedback and have their say on different community initiatives. We have a really transparent and community-focused approach in general. So, everybody’s excited to be able to actually ask people questions and get the feedback from them. It’s been really positive.”