The Future of Digital Engagement

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Grayling Engage launches new report and virtual consultation offer

To mark the launch of new platform EngageOnline, Rikki Butler, Head of Grayling Engage discusses the rapid shift to digital consultation methods during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way we engage. Society as a whole has switched to using technology at a greater rate than ever before, while businesses, politicians and stakeholders have been forced to rethink their approaches to engagement.

The impact this has had on consultation and engagement practices came across loud and clear in our new research, highlighted in new report The Future of Engagement, published today in partnership with the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Through UK-wide research with the general public and industry professionals, we explored how the pandemic changed public decision making, and what this could mean for the future.

We found that the rapid shift to online platforms has led to the vast majority (83%) of consultation professionals changing the way they engage with local communities on key projects across the infrastructure, housing, retail, energy, and health sectors. 

However, while many industry professionals said they would now feel more confident in proposing creative methods of engagement, many recognise that their teams often lack the digital training, skills and tools they need to be as innovative and effective as possible (73% of industry survey respondents). In addition, two out of three professionals believe it’s possible to go ‘too far’ with digital engagement, suggesting there remains a firm need for face-to-face activity post lockdown.

Engaging new audiences

As conversations that traditionally took place in town halls, libraries and other public spaces have moved online, almost half (49%) of the general public surveyed said that having the ability to respond digitally as well as face-to-face would make them more likely to get involved in consultations, particularly with younger respondents.

The need for the UK’s local places and services to adapt to a changing world, and the desire to involve local people, was also highlighted. More than half (53%) of the general public surveyed agreed that changes to local places, spaces and services will need to happen to adapt to life post pandemic – and that local people should be involved in these decisions.

This suggests digital engagement could be the key to unlocking participation from a larger, younger and more diverse cohort – which would help ensure the many decisions needed to help the country adapt after the pandemic more accurately reflect the needs of a rapidly changing society. But it shouldn’t be a choice between digital or face-to-face engagement – both have an important role to play.

Grayling launches EngageOnline

That’s why our new virtual engagement offer, EngageOnline, has been designed to be as effective for ‘digital only’ consultations as it is for ‘blended’ programmes. It is not a pastiche of in person events – it is a user friendly, all-device-compatible online home for the project.

EngageOnline is a fully-customisable platform to facilitate online consultation and engagement programmes. Designed to provide the tools needed to comply with the consultation requirements for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, it is also flexible enough to meet the needs of a wide range of other projects from planning applications for housing developments, to change programmes being run by the NHS.

To find out more about Grayling Engage’s new offer, contact Rikki Butler on rikki.butler@grayling.com 

To download the new report, The Future of Engagement, click here.