Traditionally, community engagement has been compartmentalised into offline and online methods, often treated as distinct and separate elements. However, the evolving needs and preferences of the public call for a paradigm shift. It’s time to blend these worlds, for instance by using digital engagement platforms as enhancers of offline community engagement. This integration promises to streamline processes and enrich the quality of participation.
1. Increasing efficiency of in-person events
In-person events like town halls, workshops, and community assemblies have long been the standard in public engagement. Yet, they come with limitations – accessibility, reach, and efficiency. By integrating digital tools, these traditional formats can be transformed.
For instance, incorporating live streaming or video conferencing can break physical barriers, allowing broader participation. And even if you decide to limit participation in your event to people who can make it to a physical venue, it is a good idea to leverage your digital engagement platform for participants to ask questions, share ideas, or leave comments digitally. This will make analysing and using that input easier at later stages without extra manual work for your team.
2. Capturing community input more easily
Local events at community centres or your weekly farmers market are perfect venues for informal and spontaneous engagement. They provide neutral ground where community members feel comfortable and more likely to engage.
Setting up pop-up stalls or booths can be a good way to meet your residents where they are. You can share information, gather feedback, or engage with residents casually to get to know them better and increase trust.
“This feature of the CitizenLab platform, allowing us to submit multiple replies to a survey with one profile, is invaluable. It supports our mission to meet people where they are, ensuring broader and inclusive participation in our community decisions.”Henri Pool, Strategic Communications Advisor at Waddinxveen (the Netherlands)
This is also where an online engagement platform like CitizenLab can be useful. Use QR codes on physical materials like posters and flyers to drive traffic online. Next, help the residents you meet in person to register on your platform and get to know your engagement hub. If you have projects up for participation, help your residents navigate to the pages in question and have them fill out digital surveys or polls, or post an idea or comment on an ideation forum or map.
This way, the input you collect in person is immediately added onto your platform, which increases visibility to the rest of your community and makes it easier for you to analyse in one place. And engagement doesn’t stop when the stall closes: residents can continue the dialogue on the platform at their convenience.
3. Promoting continuous engagement
The conversation shouldn’t end when an event does. Post-event engagement is critical for maintaining momentum and ensuring continuous engagement. Digital platforms offer an ideal space for this continued dialogue. Sharing event summaries, recordings, and opening forums for post-event discussions can keep the conversation alive.
Examples of blended engagement approaches
In our vibrant community of over 500 local governments and organisations, we are continually impressed by the creative and effective ways our clients are pioneering blended community engagement strategies.
To help illustrate the potential of blended engagement, we have handpicked a selection of case studies showcasing the positive results of this approach. Each case provides unique insights into different engagement methods and can serve as inspiration for your own blended engagement strategy.
1. The London Borough of Newham sets up a successful participatory budgeting programme with a blended approach
The People Powered Places programme is the London Borough of Newham’s flagship participatory budgeting programme. Between 2021 – 2023, £1.6 million from the Neighbourhood Community Infrastructure levy has led to investment in 157 local projects. The People Powered Places programme stands out as one of the UK’s most extensive local participatory budgeting initiatives.
A robust and meticulously planned hybrid approach
The project entered a new phase in October 2023. From October 21 until November 12, Newham’s community was invited to decide how the substantial funding pot should be distributed across eight Community Neighbourhoods in what was called the ‘Big Vote’.
What sets this initiative apart is its inclusive and blended approach to voting. Recognising the diverse demographic of Newham, the program opened its doors digitally on the CitizenLab engagement platform, and in real life in libraries and community centres.
The engagement team organised three in-person events throughout the voting phase on Saturdays. Residents could either get support voting on their Newham Co-create platform or use a paper ballot.
“One of the CitizenLab’s platform core strengths lies in its strong and extensive information-sharing capabilities. Residents can learn about the People Powered Places initiative, access minutes of working group meetings, watch uploaded videos, and see upcoming events.”Amelie Pollet, Participatory Democracy Coordinator at the London Borough of Newham
2. Waddinxveen surveys residents digitally and in the streets for comprehensive feedback (Netherlands)
In Waddinxveen, a town in the Netherlands with about 32,000 residents, officials recently have been taking a blended approach to gain their community members’ opinions.
Understanding the need to reach a wider audience and acknowledging that some residents might not easily access the online platform, the municipality brainstormed how to bridge this gap.
Henri Pool, Strategic Communications Advisor at Waddinxveen: “A colleague came up with the idea of sending field interviewers out into the streets, for example to the market, to talk to residents in person. And that was a success! The residents received information about the project and filled out the survey with the field interviewers. It turned out afterward that 25% of the respondents were interviewed on the street. It allowed us to reach a target group we would not otherwise reach.”
This approach was so effective that the engagement team now encourages all project managers to apply it when they launch new projects!
Appreciating the flexibility of CitizenLab’s engagement platform
Henri highlighted the efficiency of this approach, made possible by the CitizenLab platform’s ability to record multiple survey responses. He noted, “This feature of the CitizenLab platform, allowing us to take multiple surveys, is invaluable. It supports our mission to meet people where they are, ensuring broader and inclusive participation in our community decisions.”
3. Massy embraces digital to enhance neighbourhood councils (France)
Massy, a community of 50,000 residents in the Essonne region of France, has adopted a progressive approach to organising its five neighbourhood councils. It leverages the CitizenLab participation platform, promoting interactive discussions and broad representation.
A platform for information access and engaging, transparent discussions
The Massy platform is tailored to provide residents with easy access to pertinent information and facilitate engaging discussions on various neighbourhood issues. Furthermore, it encourages residents to propose projects of collective interest, offering an opportunity for greater civic involvement.
Participation, transparency, and collaboration
Residents participate voluntarily, committing either long-term or for specific projects. They register online and agree to a downloadable charter.
The platform transparently shares information about each neighbourhood, including introductions of elected representatives, the latest news, upcoming meetings, and minutes of past meetings.
But the platform goes beyond being a simple information hub. It actively solicits participation from residents, inviting them to propose subjects for their neighbourhood council’s agenda and give feedback. By allowing residents to express their views on proposed projects, the platform fosters a sense of community, promotes open dialogue, and enhances representation within the neighbourhood councils.
The future of participation is blended
Today, residents increasingly want to participate on their terms and on their preferred platforms. This 360° participation trend is forcing local governments to combine online and offline methods to succeed. In our guide on blended engagement, we explore how to pick the right methods and illustrate it with examples.