On March 14, 2023, Fourth Economy and Connect the Dots presented the “Connecting Public Voices to Decision-Making” webinar and workshop, which focused on building community trust by making engagement inclusive, accessible, and representative. For those who couldn’t attend, the webinar recording and worksheet are now available for you to watch and complete at your convenience.
Sally J. Guzik, VP of Strategic Initiatives at Fourth Economy, and Sylvia García-García, Project Manager for Community Engagement at Connect the Dots, hosted the hour, opening with a discussion on why community engagement is important and how it fits into the big picture.
Fourth Economy and Connect the Dots have partnered on numerous projects to provide clients with a holistic and comprehensive engagement strategy to tackle economic development and strategic planning, most recently in Atlantic City. This webinar and workshop built on lessons learned from prior collaboration, to share best practices with the 100+ attendees, who joined from as far as Mexico and Nigeria.
“The common thread has been: How do you get people’s voices to the table? And how do you get [people] to help through the implementation process?” said Sally.
The webinar touched on creative ways to ensure public engagement is inclusive - including making special considerations for marginalized community members (providing childcare, stipends for transportation, or an online version for convenience), varying the type of information collected (for example, non-verbal input through art and drawing), and creating several unique environments that are safe and accessible to audiences of differing ages, abilities, and backgrounds.
As part of a meaningful placemaking project, Connect the Dots tailored engagement techniques to better engage a Chinatown community by making 1-1 conversations and survey applications available at public, massive events. Image courtesy of Connect the Dots.
One attendee asked a question about language barriers and how to accommodate both English and Spanish speakers, to ensure all public voices in the community can contribute to change.
“If you know there’s representation within your community for a particular group you want to engage, making accommodations is essential. It may not always be feasible to hire a native speaker or facilitator, but it is essential to always have materials be translated,” Sally explained.
Another inquiry was about developing an understanding of the community you aim to serve and how to do that with inclusivity and representation in mind.
“It’s not about asking less, it’s about being smart about what questions we ask,” Sylvia explained, adding, “Community members are the experts in their own lives and we treat them accordingly.”
Sylvia also differentiated outreach (one way communication with a call to action) and engagement (two way communication resulting in gathering information to inform a process) and shared how her organization discusses community involvement.
“When we talk about impact-driven participation, we think about connecting engagement interactions to key decision points. Where is the public impact required? That’s where we connect the dots,” explained Sylvia.
We want to hear from you! Is there a community engagement idea you’d like to dive into further? Are you hitting a roadblock as you think through a solution to creating more equitable public involvement? Did the worksheet spark inspiration for you to approach a planning challenge differently? Reach out to us to discuss your questions, comments, and share feedback.