I've been there and done that. Authentic face-to-face, cup-of-tea-in-hand community engagement.
When I was in my community engagement prime (I peg it at circa. 1999-2003) there was no Facebook, Twitter, virtual fly-throughs.....
The only tools we had were overhead projectors, printed handouts and tea and biscuits.
These were the tools to inform the community, and seek their feedback way back then. Innovation was the idea of setting up a website for your project, often offered to the client as an 'optional extra' should the budget allow it.
Fast forward some 15+ yrs >>
Times have changed radically, and so too have the tools allowing the community to share their thoughts, views and feelings.
We now have Facebook (2.9B), YouTube (2.6B), Instagram (1.47B), TikTok (1B), Twitter (436M) and other platforms all in the palm of our hand, allowing expression to unfold at any moment (*those numbers after the social platforms are the number of users globally at January 2022).
And if you are one of those people that think social media is not necessarily a representative voice of the community, well, as of January 2022:
more than half the world uses social media (58.4%) - 4.62 billion people around the world
424 million new users have come online within the last 12 months
the average daily time spent using social media is 2h 27m.
With such penetration of social media within our communities, comes eyewatering levels of big data.
And through the lens of Gartner's 3 V's (volume, velocity, variety) model, that's a vast amount of data, at speed and of different types, every day.
And with big data comes potential big insights, subject to the right analytics and strategic mindset.
A good example of this comes from one of the world's leading urban life measurement platforms administered by Australia's own Neighbourlytics.
And it's with platforms and processes like this that piques my community engagement interests.
Now, I need to pause: ...and for transparency, every 'analogue community engagement' bone in my body squirms at the thought of social and digital media possibly being more representative of the community's interests than those turning up in-person to a community hall on Thursday at 12noon, but...
...social media-powered big data is a tool not to me sneezed at, and should form part of any policy making or project shaping process that seeks to understand what the community thinks, feels and values.
Ensuring a triangulation-like approach to community engagement should hold one in good stead, meaning for the analogue old school types, you need to tap into the voices coming through on the socials.
And for the digital natives avoiding face-to-face contact with those in-place, think again.
Social media-powered big data analytics combined with multiple other in-person and hybrid engagement tools is critical. It's not one or the other.
And above all, it needs to be part of an intentional process that helps shape better decisions, underpinned by purpose and values (read more about that here from Articulous, one of the leaders in community engagement).
So remember, if you're keen to understand what the community is thinking, and how they feel about their wellbeing - you might just want to listen to the tweeting and posting in your neighbourhood.
PS. In other news, with respect to big data analytics, watch for a follow-up 'quick take' on adding more eyes and ears to the city shaping process by deploying sensors in our public places and spaces. And don't freak out just yet, this is all in the name of generating greater insights around how the community uses the public realm and how we can make the best decisions around maintenance and management. On the privacy issue, we will dig into that in a little while.