Over the past year, we’ve all likely experienced an increase in the integration of technology into our lives. From keeping in touch with loved ones to virtual school scenarios to the seemingly never-ending work video calls, it’s fair to say that despite the many challenges endured, the ability to reach and connect with more people is certainly a positive. At ESA, we’ve seen this benefit our clients firsthand with the switch to holding public meetings virtually.
Where We’ve Been
Engaging with and educating stakeholders through public meetings is a critical step in a project’s approval process. Understandably, as the world shut down and being together in-person was no longer feasible, many wondered if the same outcomes could be achieved in a virtual format. ESA’s public engagement experts pivoted quickly and immersed themselves in making sure this would be a smooth transition for clients.
Our clients should be focused on delivering a clear message, not preparing the content for presentation or whether or not the technology will work. ESA takes the lead here, and we’ve honed a system over the past year to set our clients up for success.
And while there have been growing pains while acclimating to this new normal, we’ve learned from them and adapted, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. With the ability to broaden access to information in an equitable and convenient way, we foresee that virtual options for public meetings are here to stay.
Where We’re Going
As COVID-19 restrictions have begun to lift and change, we’ve already adapted once again, this time to offer various options for holding public meetings that blend the virtual and in-person. Depending on what might be most advantageous in terms of the audience and information presented, this hybrid approach can be achieved either through a simulcast (broadcasting the live video stream via YouTube or social media) or by holding appointment-only sessions at a separate date and time from the original virtual meeting. Both methods effectively maximize the audience you can capture.
When considering a simulcast, ESA assesses and troubleshoots the technical capabilities available at the meeting location to ensure that in-person attendees and those listening and participating via livestream have as similar an experience as possible. We are seeing this format used more and more recently, especially when it is important that the exact same information and messaging are presented to a large group.
In the alternative, many situations call for a more tailored approach in terms of presentation to varying stakeholders. Utilizing in-person appointment sessions can also be a way to engage those who might be reluctant or unfamiliar with using technology more widely.
More Ways to Engage
We have been busy exploring additional ways to enhance the virtual meeting experience as we move into this more hybrid world. The following are some of the services that you might want to consider in the future:
- Virtual Open Houses – Our in-house website development team can put together a one-stop web “shop” for housing all of your resources for the public. From meeting recordings to project videos and simulations to additional information and materials to access to provide public comment, those who could not attend a meeting, or would like to refer back, can find the information they need all in one place at any time.
- 3-D Environments – Stakeholders may like to experience a virtual meeting in a “live” simulation setting. In a 3-D environment, attendees can approach booths and boards to watch videos, review materials, or provide input.
- Small Community Meetings – Some proposed projects affect a smaller population; for these projects, we’ve seen great results from setting up more intimate and collaborative breakout sessions, both in-person and virtually.
- Technology “Tool-Kit” – Budget dependent, ESA can equip the meeting facility with enhanced AV technology if the options already in place won’t suffice for quality streaming.
In an ever-changing world, ESA is committed to remaining at the forefront of the technology needed to easily blend virtual and in-person public meetings, allowing you to maximize public engagement for your project. To discuss our offerings in this space further, please contact Spencer Mains, Director of Information Technology.