It’s exciting to complete a successful community outreach event. It’s amazing when a neighborhood turns out, asks great questions, understands the project, and leaves feeling prepared for the upcoming work. But it takes a lot of planning and a winning strategy to design an event that will get people out of their daily routines and into a place to engage about underground utilities, new bus stops, infrastructure improvements or other ways growth or change may affect their street, community, city or region.
Of course, before anything due diligence is key.
- -What’s the history of the City’s involvement in the neighborhood?
- -How many projects have taken place recently or are currently taking place?
- -How is this project going to interact with other projects?
- -How has the city handled past projects in this community?
These things will have an impact on how the community perceives your project today. It’s essential to know this information and be prepared to discuss it.
Below are a few key factors that, when informed by background and context, lead to an outstanding community outreach event.
First things first, you need to figure out who you need to reach with your event. The obvious group is the people who live near your project, but there are other important groups to consider:
- -Local businesses
- -Property owners
- -Water users
- -Park users
But what time? When? And where?
Ideally, we’d host multiple events for each project. One on a weekend, one on a weekday evening, and one during the day to reach all the different lifestyles and schedules. Instead, you must consider the circumstances of your target audience. An evening event on a weeknight is great for people who work standard 9-5 jobs, but can be challenging for people working nights or with young kids. Some people work weekends, while others go hit the trails. Consider the best way to get your audience in the room.
It’s important to consider the timing of your event – it is just as important as location.
Host your event at a location that is accessible and intentional. It needs to be close to the project area and located within the target community.
Is the project area complicated? Host the event outside, on location, and walk through the site.
Is your project spread across a large area? Host an event at a venue centrally located within the work zone, or multiple events through the different geographical areas.
The last step before the actual event is to determine how to draw people out to attend your event. If you have a robust contact list, emails are a time efficient and effective method. If you haven’t developed a list yet, go knock on doors to directly tell people about the event – you can invite them and build your email list. Post signs around the community and project area – this will allow you to reach visitors to the area who may still be impacted. Depending on the audience size, you can utilize digital advertising. There are many ways to promote event; take your time and think about what will be effective for your audience.
Send people home with information to review. Make sure you have a set of flyers, brochures, fact sheets, etc. When preparing materials, you want to ensure they are accessible – simple language, graphic illustrations, and translated into any languages that are needed.
Make sure you create the opportunity tell the entire story of the project.
A lot of times, especially with smaller projects, community members just want to learn about how they will be impacted by a project. The thing is, if they don’t understand why the project is happening or why it matters, it’s a lot harder to understand the necessity of the impacts. The why of a project is key and you want to make sure community members start by learning the purpose before the impact.
There are so many ways to do this:
- -Have a station for each component of the project that community members walk through
- -Host an event at the project site and assign community members to a single representative and have them walk them through the project area and the why behind the project
- -Give a formal presentation about the project
It seems obvious, but patience is essential when running an outreach event. Don’t stress yourself about rushing through conversations or meeting a deadline to finish. There isn’t a deadline – the only goal is to properly educate and prepare the community.
Take the time to do it properly.
Listen to the community.
Take notes and write down questions to follow-up on.
A Little Tip: something as simple as a plate of baked goods from the favorite local bakery can mean a lot to the people you’re speaking with. This extra touch at your event shows that you value their community and their time.
The Week After:
Send an email to all the people who attended. Thank them for coming and attach the materials that you also handed out at the event. To make sure people’s thoughts and concerns are heard and addressed, include some follow-up answers to the most frequent comments.
Want to learn more about our community outreach services? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org