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Summertime: No Vacation for Community Engagement

Modern building in summer

Some people view summer as a time to relax. We have nothing against relaxation, but for us and the development teams we work with, summertime is when we need to devote extra attention to community engagement. Why? Because the season presents the perfect opportunity to bring engagement efforts outdoors and in person.

The rationale for outdoor engagement is simple. We encourage our clients to engage with local stakeholders wherever and however those stakeholders want to congregate. In the winter, that’s often in the virtual realm (excepting Floridians and Southern Californians). In the summer season, especially for those of us who’ve suffered through a cold Northeastern winter (coUrbanize is based in Boston), it’s outside.  

Meet your stakeholders there! As a first step, launch an SMS campaign. Post signs with QR codes around neighborhoods to enable residents to learn about and offer feedback on planned projects. Consider hosting in-person events with food and activities, which are especially appealing to families and young people. Barbecues, picnics, concerts, fairs, art exhibitions, and beach/pool parties all go over well. If you host an event, make sure you alert local organizations who can help you get the word out. These events also provide invaluable opportunities for live polling: You can collect feedback both in person and via text message. As we regularly tell our clients, developers who incorporate this kind of feedback into the planning process significantly improve the prospects for approvals.  

If hosting an event is not feasible, you can still explore sponsorships and other forms of participation. If you sponsor an event, you will probably be able to advertise in some capacity. That’s a great way to bring your engagement website to the attention of a community while creating positive associations for your project. At the very least, try to send a member or members of the development team to the event.  Community events offer a casual, neutral environment for discussing projects. Your team members can share key information and benefits to those who may not know much – if anything – about your project.

Even though summer is a good time to focus on in-person outreach, don’t neglect your online communications. Respond to comments, even if you’re in a so-called “quiet period.” Adjust your approach to accommodate seasonal preferences. People will probably spend less time on their computers over the summer and, accordingly, visit your project websites less often. So bring the news to them. Send email updates, remind stakeholders of the work you’re doing, and invite them to participate in discussions on your feedback page. Even if they don’t participate, they’ll remember that you made the effort to keep everyone informed.

We recommend monthly updates at a minimum. Share any and all news.  If there aren’t any significant updates, let community members know that and tell them when they can expect new information. In our experience, most community members don’t know how long entitlements processes can take, so it’s important to demonstrate that your team is still there and listening. You can even summarize themes from recent comments.  

Although coUrbanize as an online platform, we strongly recommend a blend of online and offline engagement efforts. Our ultimate goal is to reach as many people as possible through whatever methods they view as convenient and inclusive. That’s why outdoor engagement is a smart strategy during the summer months.

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