by Adria Boynton
Public outreach, engagement, and feedback are critical to the success of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) projects. Early public involvement improves the quality of the deliverable, saves money and time by avoiding redesigns, and increases support for the project and future funding for similar work. The COVID-19 crisis has required AEC professionals to adapt their in-person outreach and engagement to virtual formats. The lessons learned can enrich future engagement efforts, even when in-person meetings are once again feasible.
This article shares recommendations for inclusive and interactive strategies that incorporate equity and accessibility as primary considerations. These approaches apply to many project types, especially those with green development, sustainability, and climate resilience components. Sustainability and climate resiliency add additional complexity to already multifaceted technical projects, increasing the importance of making presentations accessible and inclusive. Sustainable and climate resilient projects also offer important opportunities for public co-benefits. Ensuring everyone can be part of the conversation increases the project’s impact and public awareness and may inspire new partners to contribute to making our communities better places to live.
A still image from a public video translated into Spanish, and an accompanying online survey used to capture feedback
Sharing engaging visuals can help communicate technical information to non-technical audiences and tell a compelling story. Helpful tools to improve visual content include custom templates, stock photos, infographic and graphic design software, and online guidance to increase the legibility of text and colors for those with vision impairments.
Short videos can be posted online and on social media, shared in multiple languages, and can include captioning. For some, clicking on a YouTube video may be more accessible than attending an in-person meeting, allowing the participant to engage in the content in their own time.
Games and giveaways can encourage participant engagement and compensate them for their time. This can include playing virtual bingo, project-related trivia, or offering giveaways for attendees. Giving gift cards to local restaurants can be the virtual equivalent of providing food during in-person meetings, can help support local businesses during COVID-19, and can re-invest parts of a project’s budget into the community.
Social media platforms can provide opportunities for participants to contribute input. Such posts should be positive, grab the audience’s attention, provide easily digestible information, and share an achievable call to action. It is important to work with trusted organizations in the community to shape the messaging for these posts and get the word out through established accounts. Some social media platforms including polling, while online surveys offer additional space for public input, can be shared in multiple languages and pair well with webinars and videos.
Additional tools offered by virtual meeting platforms include simultaneous audio translation or interactive features like polls, breakout rooms, shared whiteboards, or annotation features. Teams should address barriers to joining a webinar by sharing instructions for joining, designating a staff member to answer technology questions, advertising a public location with free Wi-Fi, and sharing materials in advance for those joining by phone.
The recent necessity of transforming in-person outreach and engagement efforts has led to innovative virtual strategies that can enhance public engagement even after COVID-19. In some cases, virtual approaches may help increase accessibility for participants of varying degrees of health, levels of mobility, and those with schedules and commitments that do not allow for attending in-person meetings. Continuing to develop and refine a varied set of engagement tools can help AEC professionals reach new audiences to inform the development of work with a positive public impact.
Adria Boynton is resiliency specialist at Weston & Sampson.