Success stories

How One Growing Canadian School District Increased Engagement

student families reached
schools in district
engagement in community strategic planning
awareness in over 1.5K residents
Technology has changed the way children learn, but it also provides a new pathway for engagement with families outside the classroom. With over 20,000 culturally diverse students across 46 schools (and a 47th soon to open), the communications team at Abbotsford School District in British Columbia, Canada, sought a tool to help streamline and increase impact to their communications efforts.
I’m just really excited to see where we can go with this platform and how we can better all of the engaging opportunities that we want to be able to provide for our internal audiences, our employees, and our key external audiences as well. I’m excited to see what happens. I’ve got high hopes.

Streamlining and Efficiency for a Growing District

Communication and engagement are nothing new in education. It’s arguably at the core of the teacher/student relationship. Creating strategies for increasing communications and engagement with families at the school district level, however, can be a challenge for district communications teams.

Located in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Canada, the Abbotsford School District found itself struggling to maintain a consistent approach to engaging the families of over 20,000 students in their 46 schools.

“We’ve been doing online engagement for almost a decade, but it has been very ad hoc,” said Kayla Stuckart, Abbotsford’s Manager of Communications. “We haven’t had a streamlined process to be able to house everything under one banner. We’d do a few emails here, fill out the survey there. But then we spend a lot of time on the backend populating and analyzing data manually.”

The time and effort required to create and execute engagement plans, as well as gather the data that both families and district stakeholders seek in reports, made creating an effective means of presenting information difficult.

“It’s important for us in public education that we’re really transparent on the projects that we’re working on and consulting on, particularly with our stakeholders, and how we’re engaging with them, how we’re seeking feedback,” said Stuckart. “When we’re consulting with the district board, we’re not just saying ‘Here’s one PDF that we need you to read.’ There are a lot of materials that are associated with them. So we needed a hub for those kinds of materials.”

Streamlining the engagement process was something that Stuckart’s team sought, and they found the opportunity to implement a change due to the development of the 47th school in the district, the first new school in the district in over 10 years. Bringing technology to the process could help increase engagement around common issues such as neighborhood catchment boundary maps for enrollment, Stuckart said.

“In the past, when we would do these neighborhood catchment reviews, we would rent out a gym and we’d print off huge maps,” said Stuckart. “We would map out each neighborhood with a highlighter. We wanted to create an engagement portal that provided a way for families to give feedback on different options.”


A 24/7 Centralized Approach

Stuckart’s team had used a different online engagement tool previously. But she said that the centralized platform approach of EngagementHQ appealed better to their needs.

“What really appealed to me, as well as the senior leadership team and board of education, was the ability to house all of our engagements in a centralized hub,” she said. “It’s important for us in public education that we’re really transparent on the projects that we’re working on and consulting on, particularly with our stakeholders, and how we’re engaging with them, how we’re seeking feedback. So with the EngagementHQ platform, we were really able to create these unique projects and pages for all of our consultation, and provide a really clear timeline of when we’re asking questions or when we’re doing key updates in our public board meetings.”

Another unique element that EngagementHQ offered, according to Stuckart, was the ability to easily integrate the hub into the branding and style of Abbotsford’s existing website.

“With other online engagement tools, it would really look like a completely different platform,” she said. “EngagementHQ looks like an extension of our organization and of our normal platforms. So we’re able to implement our imagery, we’re able to add our colors, we’re able to profile our board and kind of show who’s listening on these projects. The interface is absolutely lovely in terms of how to use the dashboard and how to set up the projects. It’s very intuitive. But the ability to brand it so that it looks like our own is something that’s really nice and not something I’ve seen from other tools.”

Early on, Stuckart leveraged EngagementHQ to help with catchment boundary maps for the new 47th school, creating information pages, but also allowing for two-way feedback between families and the district. Families could ask questions at live meetings or online, and Stuckart’s team created feedback questions to gauge opinions of different options online.

“Open houses and in-person meetings are always going to be effective for some of our consultations,” said Stuckart. “Nothing really can beat that face-to-face connection sometimes. But our online platform ultimately allowed us to provide a space to have dialogue 24/7 throughout the day. It didn’t matter what time of day it was.”

Not only did the digital approach offer more flexibility of when families could provide feedback, but it also helped broaden which communities in the area could engage. With a large number of Punjabi-speaking families in the area, questions for some of the consultations were translated and presented in multiple languages on the engagement hub.
“We wanted the survey to reflect the communities in the area,” said Stuckart. “It was really helpful for just reducing any of those communication barriers that sometimes happen when you’re engaging families with multiple languages in their household.”


Immediate and Promising Engagement

Since implementing EngagementHQ, Stuckart said that the ability to centralize information and integrate it closely with feedback opportunities has resulted in significant impact.

“I wouldn’t say it was unexpected, but I was surprised by our increase in participation and awareness, which has been exciting to see over the last little bit,” she said.

The 24/7 availability of the Abbotsford District hub led to more participation in numerous projects, from both families and employees.

“It didn’t matter what time of day it was,” said Stuckart. “We actually saw on the back end in the analytics dashboard that parents were participating late at night after their kids went to bed or early in the morning before they sent their kids to school. Same with our employees. It really created this open-ended period where consultation could happen really fluidly. And so, ultimately, it added another tool to our toolkit.”

After the success of the catchment boundary review program increasing awareness in over 1,500 residents, EngagementHQ also helped increase participation in recent budget and strategy planning consultations, showing the continued potential to change how, when, and where engagement could occur on district issues.

Rather than have two separate consultations for the district budget and the annual strategic plan, Stuckart’s team was able to present information and gather feedback for both through EngagementHQ. Each featured a project page including timelines, relevant embedded videos and materials, and survey questions.

“We were able to ask those open-ended questions, but also really targeted multiple-choice survey,” said Stuckart. “So as our consultation closed, we were able to adjust our budget this year based on some of the feedback that we saw from those survey portals.”

The impact was exciting, said Stuckart, with over double the awareness and participation over the previous year suggesting a promising return on investment in the increased engagement across numerous projects.

“We’re just kind of just dipping our toes into the water, which is exciting,” she said. “And not only because the analytics are promising. It’s also the verbal feedback from our leadership teams about look and user-friendliness.”

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