Pillar 2: Initiate

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Once you have thought through the steps in Pillar 1, it’s time to start developing your public engagement approach and outreach plan.

Step 1: Draft Public Engagement Approach

Choose a mix of in-person and online activities in order to reach a broader cross section of your community. Not all residents will have the desire and/or time to attend an in-person workshop, and not all residents will feel comfortable with or have access to digital engagement tools. Keeping the timeline, budget and staff time constraints identified in Pillar 1 in mind, fill out the Draft Public Engagement Approach Template. The purpose of this template is to help you think through the logistical preparation for an in-person meeting. While there is no such thing as a “right” or “wrong” approach, decisions made about items such as meeting location, room set up, refreshments, childcare and language interpretation influence the tone and outcome. Make sure that the approach you use is the one most likely to achieve your intended goal. It is also important to consider Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and accessibility issues. For considerations and tips related to accessibility see ILG’s tipsheet “Increasing Access to Public Meetings and Events for People with Disabilities.”

There are many different digital engagement tools to consider. This document contains several options; but it is not an exhaustive list, nor an endorsement from the Institute for Local Government. Choose the one that best matches your agency’s public engagement goal, time frame and budget. 

Step 2: Develop Outreach Plan

Once you have a draft public engagement plan in hand, it is tempting to start inviting residents to your in-person and online activities. However, your outreach effort will be more successful if you first ask yourself the following questions.

Outreach Questions to Consider

  • What level of engagement are you looking to create? The IAP2 spectrum ranges from informing residents to consulting them to empowering them to make a decision regarding some aspect of the housing plan or project. While there is no “right” or “wrong” level of engagement, some outreach approaches are more likely to achieve certain outcomes than others. 
  • What resources do you already have on-hand? Are funds available to acquire additional resources? For example, language translation equipment or online tools. 
  • Have nearby agencies conducted housing planning related outreach and learned lessons that could be incorporated into your effort?
  • Is there a community based organization already providing housing related outreach within the community or region that you can partner with?
  • Are there community events or meetings that you can attend or present at (e.g. farmers market or homeowners association meeting)?
  • Do the proposed outreach activities fit with what you know about the needs of the target populations?
Category Examples
Print Brochures, Fact Sheets, News Releases, Feature Articles, Inserts, Flyers, Newsletters, Letters to the Editor, Direct Mailing, Utility Mailer
Electronic Public Service Announcements (PSAs), Videos, Emails, Radio Interviews, Public Television, Online Bulletin Boards, Social Media, Website, E-Newsletter, Surveys, Webinars
Visuals PowerPoint Slides, Photos, Displays, Exhibits, Poster/ Billboards, Signs
Personal contact Workshops, Presentations, Meetings, Interviews, Surveys, Press Events, Conferences, Community Events

Remember: When designing outreach activities for your community, one size does not fit all. Using a combination of different media types can increase the chance that you will reach beyond the usual participants.  

It is important to identify the communication outlets that make sense for your public engagement effort. Use at least three different categories, and as many tools as makes sense.

Types of Media to Consider

Category What It Is How to Use It
Earned media Also called free media, this is publicity gained through editorial influence.
e.g. newspaper article
Reach out to the community, talk to people one-on-one and to groups at their meetings. Encourage word of mouth amongst residents. Speak to leaders from a wide range of groups (such as school, business, faith based, advisory boards, task forces, health and neighborhood).
Ethnic media Produced by and for culturally diverse populations, immigrants, racial, ethnic and linguistic groups.  Identify which groups of community members you hope will attend based on demographics and/or who could be affected by the housing plan. Translate outreach materials as needed and share with appropriate community groups. For tips on partnering with ethnic media view this tip sheet
Owned media Communication channels that are within one’s control, such as websites, blogs, or email. Use your agency’s accounts in online social networks (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.). Send relevant information out in a timely manner via e-blasts, press releases, blog posts, etc.).
Social media Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or participate in social networking. Announce the housing planning meeting and invite people using pages/accounts in online social networks (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram). Include directions, transit routes and suggestions about parking.

Community members need to be engaged through a variety of forms so that residents who have less capacity to attend traditional meetings or are not as civic-minded have a chance to make their voices heard. Below are some alternative engagement methods that can help to build relationships and garner valuable input from stakeholders and community members. 

Conduct stakeholder interviews

Connect with the formal and informal leaders, partner organizations and community members through informational and discovery interviews. Interviews are excellent tools to better understand underlying issues or concerns in a discreet way and can be an effective means to engage people who may be advocates or adversaries.   

Launch immersive listening sessions with diverse stakeholder groups 

Conduct small group meetings with stakeholders to uncover issues and opportunities. Thought provoking, open-ended questions allow for in-depth exploration of a variety of areas that may not arise in a larger venue. 

Go to where the stakeholders already are

Identify alternative ways to reach stakeholders and community members beyond meetings. Connecting with an existing event or activity can be useful, especially to share information and ask for further engagement. This can mean going to a farmer’s market, holiday event, health fair, school, church event or setting up shop at a local café or brewery.

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