Inclusive Engagement in the Era of COVID-19

This has been a year of learning and listening for many of us. At CDR, we quickly adjusted to COVID by moving our projects online. And now, as 2021 begins, it feels like the world would be a very strange place without at least one Zoom meeting each day.

During this adjustment, we struggled to find ways to ensure our online approach was not only technologically functional, but inclusive to the communities and stakeholders we work with. In the public engagement field, you often hear the mantra: meet people where they are. In the past, we’ve cherished getting out into the field (the literal and figurative one)––whether that means meeting people at their local clubhouses for a conversation, going to community festivals (in giant fields) with baby goats, or even setting up pop-up booths at local grocery stores or ice cream socials. 

In 2020, we couldn’t meet people in-person where they were. People were in their homes––being teachers, being parents, being caregivers, being first responders. So, like the rest of the world, we adjusted. We looked towards a more inclusive approach to where we not only met people where they were, but also on their schedule.

We’ve found a few tools that have worked for helping our team engage those who may not traditionally participate in the public process:

  • We’re offering live interpretation on our virtual public meetings. If we know a community has a large Spanish-speaking population, we work with groups like the Community Language Cooperative to utilize the Zoom interpretation setting. People can join via Zoom or via phone and participate in their preferred language.
  • We’re translating our websites and outreach materials every chance we get. For some projects, instead of hosting live meetings, we’ve created standing websites. Attendees are able to access the website at their convenience, in Spanish and English, when it fits with their schedule.
  • We’re engaging and facilitating inclusivity panels and expert groups on our projects, made up of individuals who advise us of the most inclusive and community-specific approach for engagement. These individuals understand community needs best, and offer advice as well as connections to important community leaders.
  • We’re using existing Social Media networks and apps to engage participants. Whether that means broadcasting a Zoom webinar on Facebook Live or posting on a community forum like NextDoor or WhatsApp groups, we’ve found many community members are using social media platforms to gather information on what is happening in the community.
  • We’re reverting back to traditional forms of outreach. In the past 9 months, we’ve sent out hundreds of postcards to stakeholders and set up project phone numbers to ensure those who are unable to access information via the internet are still able to participate in the public process.

How have you found opportunities to be inclusive during COVID? We’d love to hear your ideas and expand our growing toolkit to reach underrepresented members of our community.

Written by: Melissa Rary,