The changing landscape of public engagement during COVID-19

The changing landscape of public engagement during COVID-19

For WithersRavenel’s planners and designers, being certain that our work reflects a community’s needs and desires is paramount. Engaging with the public becomes vital to understanding communities and creating successful projects. With COVID-19 restrictions putting limits on public gatherings and face-to-face contact, flexibility is the key to successful public engagement.

Meredith Gruber, PLA, AICP, Director of Public Planning, recommends tailoring communication to client and community preferences. One option is a “meeting in a box,” giving community members all the information and a roadmap to participate in engagement from the comfort and safety of their own home.

“The classic open house, not everyone wants to do those now,” she said. Gruber finds that while many clients now shy away from open houses, others are not interested in fully virtual meetings. Finding a happy medium and offering options can make all the difference.

Brian Starkey, PLA, ASLA, WithersRavenel Director of Parks & Recreation, noted the recent change in state gathering restrictions, limiting indoor meetings to 10 people. While face-to-face engagement meetings since early 2020 have all involved masking up, the new numbers guideline poses challenges.

“We’ve got to be nimble and willing to change our community engagement strategy,” he said. “It’s always been our philosophy to provide multiple opportunities for people to get involved.” To effectively communicate with the backdrop of COVID-19, Starkey says that philosophy is expanding. “Putting together a presentation that can be posted online gives people an opportunity to comment virtually,” he said.

Other popular options we utilize are online or mail surveys. For clients who want a more traditional face-to-face open house, WithersRavenel continues to offer that option with a focus on safety and social distancing while still encouraging effective communication.

Do you need to incorporate public engagement into your community project or planning initiative but feel stuck due to COVID? Put WithersRavenel’s professionals to work for you. Contact Brian Starkey at (919) 238-0305 or bstarkey@withersravenel.com or Meredith Gruber at (919) 238-0431 or mgruber@withersravenel.com.