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Online Community Engagement

2020 has been an unprecedented year in which everyone has had to adapt. With face to face engagement not possible this year for agencies, local authorities and communities, many have used online engagement platforms to help communicate and discuss flood related issues.

As well as face to face engagement, communities can utilise online engagement platforms to host community meetings with themselves or external agencies and authorities. Not only has online engagement proven useful during the Coronavirus restrictions, but it also shows how it can be used if there is extreme weather, or if there is a shortage of meeting space for example. Here, at Newground the Flood Team have continued to communicate with external agencies, authorities and communities throughout the Covid-19 pandemic by using some of the programmes listed later in the blog and through The Flood Hub.

Online engagement can take place through:

  • Online group meetings – These are useful for community groups to hold discussions and ask the host questions. They can be used to replace their normal face to face meetings to allow the group to get together online and discuss how to progress their actions. Cameras and microphones can either be switched on or off and the meeting could be formal or informal.
  • Webinars – These involve one speaker who presents to a group of people. There is limited opportunity for interaction as those who watch are often muted with their cameras switched off automatically. There are chat buttons and question and answer buttons where users can type questions to the host, however these questions are usually answered at the end of the session or even after it.
  • Online conferences – These are similar to group meetings, but they tend to be more formal. They allow for more interaction than webinars and could be more suitable for a large number of attendees who may not know each other. There is usually more time for interaction with the host and allows questions to be asked and answered.

These are some of the following programmes that are available to use:

  • Zoom
  • Microsoft Teams
  • GoToMeeting
  • GoToWebinar
  • Adobe Connect
  • CloudApp
  • Skype
  • WhatsApp
  • Facebook messenger video

The format of the meeting is dependent on the aim and the host should decide which is the most appropriate.

Advantages and disadvantages of online engagement

Online engagement can have a number of advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered:

Advantages

  • Allows communities to be kept up to date – engagement events can be moved online so that communities continue receiving up to date information.
  • It can sometimes be accessible for more people as people can connect from any location that is convenient to them. This could also mean that there could be an increased attendance as a result.
  • It can sometimes save time and money.
  • Attendees can also share information with other attendees and hosts in some applications through taking control and sharing their screen.

Disadvantages

  • Reliant on technology to be working.
  • Sometimes there may be no face to face contact for both the presenter and community members.
  • There could be demographic issues – some people may not have access to the internet or may find it difficult to use.
  • Webinars are difficult to have a discussion as often it is the presenter speaking to a screen. There are the chat functions and question and answer sections, however, these can sometimes be distracting, and people may find them difficult to use.
  • There can be interference, for example with Wi-Fi signal or background noise.
  • Advertising the event online can be difficult as not everyone will receive the information, especially if they don’t have regular access to the internet.

Overall, both face to face and online engagement can be effective, however, it’s important to think about:

  • what format would be most appropriate for the type of meeting you are holding;
  • your target audience and whether an online meeting is suitable for them.
  • The programme you would like to use to host the meeting in, and;
  • The various advantages and disadvantages and whether the message you wish to deliver at the meeting is better suited to online engagement or face to face.

Nevertheless, due to Covid-19, many workplaces and communities have had to adapt and move online, which has presented us with further options for engagement in the future. Even when things get back to “normal”, engaging online could be a viable option if it’s suitable.

Information about online community engagement can be found on The Flood Hub here: https://thefloodhub.co.uk/community/#online-community-engagement

For more about online engagement, check out the Digital Toolkit for Communities written by Local Trust here.

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