Digital engagement is not a pivot

March 24, 2021
The truth is digital engagement was a vital tool for inclusion before and only grew in scope during the pandemic.

It’s been just over a year since the nationwide Stay-at-Home order and the PRR team moving to a fully virtual environment. Who’s tired of hearing about pivots, virtual-this-and-that, and lawyers with cat faces? Ok–so we’re not tired of the face filter yet. The truth is digital engagement was a vital tool for inclusion before and only grew in scope during the pandemic. In 2020, we helped our clients reach people on a variety of projects in a variety of ways that resulted in meaningful participation during a difficult time:

As we reflect back, there were a few themes reinforced by the limitations of digital engagement during the pandemic:

  1. Prioritize equity and accessibility. The digital landscape presents similar and new challenges to in-person engagement. We had to consider digital inequity including access to reliable internet and available bandwidth, even with many people using smartphones to connect. Some tools, like the state-internet hotspots (findable by calling into 211) are only part of the solution of common issues with digital equity. We also had to consider the accessibility of information, just as we would consider the accessibility of a meeting venue. Does our audience use languages other than English, use a screen reader, or need to access a recording? When given the opportunity to implement a more robust strategy that included transcreation, interpretation, custom platforms, and other tools, we were able to engage more folks with historically marginalized identities or who have historically not engaged much.
  2. Remember there’s not a one-size-fits-all tool or method. Our philosophy of Make It Meaningful always starts with thinking through how we can meet people where they are. When you think about the digital environment, it varies from minute to minute. The key is understanding your audience tendencies and creating multiple touchpoints through consistent messaging and outreach points. Whether you’re engaging through an online open house, social media, a community-based partner, or a website—the messages should stay the same. And a good message is always clear, concise, culturally resonate, and understandable at an eighth-grade reading level.
  3. Some communities do not engage online. We knew that in-person engagement was off-limits during the pandemic, but it remains an important element to inclusivity. To broaden our reach to those who prefer not to or will not engage online, we used several safe methods like socially distant door-to-door flyering, mailings, media outreach including print and radio, and collaborating with community-based organizations that work directly with harder to reach audiences that could include older adults, people with low incomes, people who were not born in the U.S., people who do not use English, and people who rent.

While the pandemic changed our lives and how we engage with one another, it’s been more of a catalyst than a pivot for a hard look at digital engagement. Our PRR team is committed to learning and growing our practice in collaboration with our communities as the future unfolds.

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