If you’ve been keeping up with DirectionsMag’s webinar series, you’ve probably noticed that ArcGIS Hub is becoming a popular topic in many webinars, from those on participatory planning and project management to those for K12 classrooms. ArcGIS Hub has grown in popularity since its early days, when it was known as ArcGIS Open Data, and is used now by thousands of federal and local government agencies, nonprofits, schools and corporations. Why? Because it’s a quick and easy solution capable of addressing significant needs. If you already have an ArcGIS Online account, you can have a site up and running in a single morning, and by afternoon, be on your way to quickly distributing information, rapidly assessing your community’s needs, and creating action plans to address them.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, state and local governments, particularly, embraced ArcGIS Hub and other platforms like it — CitizenLab, Civil Space, EngagementHQ, etc.— to work directly with their constituents on ways to address the effects of Covid-19. Cobb County, Ga’s site is an excellent example. Other municipalities launched projects aimed at improving health, access to services, and policing strategies. Sustainable development was the focus of many sites. For all of these users, their community engagement site is a critical part of their mission success.
The key to the site’s success often is overlooked. A community engagement site is only as successful as the number and diversity of the community members that actually interact with it. Anyone who has spent time online knows that a website is not a simple “build it and they will come” situation. It takes careful planning and continued effort to keep a community actively engaged in a site. So how can you ensure that your organization sees the full benefit?
Engaging the Community
- Plant seed content. The easiest way to ensure people are using the site consistently is to give them information they look for repeatedly. What information regarding your site’s initiatives is most relevant to the daily lives of the community? Put up that content, and make sure it will show up in a Google search so that people who are unaware of the site are directed to it.
- Make publicizing your site part of your social media content plan. Let your followers know what’s on the site, why you’re running it, and how they can participate in it. If you don’t have a social media content plan, have a look at these articles on Civic Plus:
- “7 Ways Local Government Can Use Social Media”
- “7 Ways to Use Social Media With Your Municipal Website In 2019”
- Don’t overlook traditional advertising strategy. Publicize your site to email lists, in press releases, and with mailers. Think about communities that could be best served with billboards or posters. Get on the local radio or news broadcast, or pitch a story to the newspaper about your site and the issues it addresses.
Remember that one of the great advantages of online engagement is its ability to break down barriers of inclusivity presented by traditional in-person engagement, (like town hall meetings, which many can’t attend due to work hours, transportation problems or heath concerns, among others). Specifically plan to reach out to community members who haven’t previously been involved. Bang the Table, associated with EngagementHQ, provides a number of excellent resources and articles for inclusive engagement. I love their recommendations to:
- Recruit/hire members of the communities you want to reach to help design content, run projects and champion the site to their networks.
- Translate site content into all of the languages used by your community.
- Promote the site within organizations and groups within underserved communities, such as in the announcements at local club meetings and religious services.
- Recruit leaders from these communities to champion the site and encourage engagement, such as ministers, respected business owners, educators, etc.
- Bang the Table also provides a .pdf resource filled with 50 additional ideas for promoting your site. Some of the ideas include:
- Having staff at the local library set up a display for the site and show attendees how to use it,
- And working with local universities and schools to get the word out to their students and faculty.
It is also important to remember that the initial excitement and engagement will fade. To keep the community actively involved requires updating the site frequently. The information on the site should always be the most up-to-date information available. Continue to advertise and promote the site as described above, refreshing your campaigns regularly, and get creative with your engagement strategies. Can you think of a contest that could boost engagement? A myth about the project you could dispel with a media/social media campaign that redirects attention to the site? Is there a new project phase to announce, or a project outcome you can celebrate with a community event? With effort, your community engagement site can become your most effective tool for achieving project success!