Aligning online and offline participation

We recently launched our online workshop feature to ensure cities can host town hall discussions online, but if your community prefers to engage in a real-life setting they should be given this opportunity, too. Combining online and offline methods also helps you reach a more diverse audience. Luckily, many governments have found ways to align the offline and online aspects of their participation projects. The idea is to actively transfer the ideas and arguments from one domain to the other, to ensure that the conversation includes all of your community’s suggestions.

How to integrate your online and offline community engagement processes

Here are some of the best practices the CitizenLab community has used to maximize its community engagement efforts both online and offline.

At your offline events:

  • Capture speakers on a video to easily share their opinions online with other community members via your platform.
  • Make note of the feedback, stories, and ideas shared by community members at the event and share these in the online discussions. This can help you measure whether the ideas that are popular during an event also receive broader support from a (potentially) more diverse audience.
  • Did the project already launch online? Share a summary of the discussion that has happened on the platform and which ideas have been exchanged. Is the offline event kicking off your online participation? Promote the online platform by saying that the conversation will continue there, or by publishing the results of the event there.

On your online platform:

  • Ask for input on the agenda of your offline event.
  • Use online surveys or polls to gather broad community feedback as a starting point for offline discussions.
  • Give a clear recap of the main topics and challenges that came up during offline talks to ensure the conversation can build upon this and evolve further.

An example of combining online and offline community engagement

The Dutch municipality of Harderwijk integrated its digital platform as a clear way to bridge two offline events. In the winter of 2019, the local government hosted its first offline “City Conversation” to deliberate about life without natural gas, asking: What are the challenges this presents for our neighborhoods? Are there any active green initiatives in the community? What opportunities do community members see?

Following this offline get-together, ideas were also posted and shared on their online engagement platform. Here, community members could continue their discussion over the course of three months. Afterward, Harderwijk hosted a final offline “City Conversation” in June 2019, where they brought all the shared input into the discussion and shared final suggestions. For evaluation, the municipality made a clear visualization of the main concerns and opportunities in the community, which they then shared on the online platform as well as in the local council meeting. These insights will be taken into account in the upcoming discussions on an action plan.

Learn more best practices and guidelines for community engagement:

Community Engagement: a Practitioner’s Guide: The steps you need to take to create a sustainable and effective community engagement strategy for your government agency.