To ensure ongoing dialogue, consultation programs often need to look beyond physical in-person meetings due to logistical constraints. One helpful solution is to incorporate remote calls on platforms such as Zoom or Teams. This has become especially relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic, as online platforms have become the go-to for communication and interaction, including public consultations for built environment projects. While moving consultations online has led to improved reach and response rates, it's important to remember that there is a risk of losing the personal touch that comes with face-to-face interactions.
To overcome this, video calling platforms like Zoom or Teams can be a valuable addition to any public consultation program, even for smaller projects. They offer a platform to discuss important design decisions with local stakeholders, address key questions, and explain the engagement program and project history. While face-to-face meetings are ideal for open and direct dialogue, online video tools can help to facilitate group discussions and make public consultations more accessible to a wider audience.
Nine tips for your next Zoom or Teams consultation meeting
Drawing on our experience in supporting various online consultation meetings and workshops over the years, we have distilled some key lessons learned and best practices to help you prepare for your next online consultation meeting. By keeping these points in mind, you can rest assured that you will be well-prepared for your upcoming meeting and equipped to make the most out of your online consultation.
Select a video calling platform with low technical barriers
Video conferencing tools vary in terms of their popularity and accessibility. While some platforms like Zoom are widely used in office communications, it cannot be assumed that all members of the audience are familiar with its usage. It's important to keep in mind that some tools, including Zoom, may require downloading an application or registering, which can pose a significant barrier to certain sections of the audience.
In some cases, platforms like Whereby.com or Google Meet, which operate within the browser, can be an alternative that lowers the barriers to participation. However, these platforms may not offer advanced features such as breakout rooms. It's important to consider the needs and preferences of your audience when selecting a video conferencing tool and to provide clear instructions for usage to ensure that everyone can participate fully.
Know your audience
To better prepare for your consultation meeting, you may want to consider setting up a registration page for participants. This can serve as an opportunity to gather important information about the attendees in advance or to share joining instructions prior to the meeting.
Platforms like Zoom offer a registration page feature that allows you to gather additional information from participants during sign-up. This can help you tailor your meeting to better suit the needs and preferences of your audience. By using a registration page, you can ensure that everyone is well-prepared for the consultation meeting and has the information they need to participate fully.
- The type of respondent: Are they a local resident, politician, and so on…
- Do they have a burning question going into the meeting?
- Do they have any particular concerns?
Use the video call as part of a process
For effective online consultation meetings, it's important to plan them as part of a broader consultation process. One effective approach is to organize a consultation period on a dedicated consultation tool prior to the meeting. This allows the audience to explore the plans and leave feedback in advance of the meeting, which can then be incorporated and addressed during the consultation.
By offering a dedicated consultation period in advance, you can engage more effectively with your audience and make the most of the consultation meeting. This approach helps ensure that attendees are well-informed and ready to provide valuable feedback during the consultation meeting.
Explain the video calling platform at the beginning of the meeting
When planning an online consultation meeting, it's important to assume that some participants may not be familiar with the video conferencing platform you're using. To help them get started, it's a good idea to prepare a slide or visual explaining how the platform works.
Make sure to take the time at the beginning of the meeting to explain the video conferencing platform and how participants can ask questions and make comments. Provide clear instructions on how to comment and how to indicate a desire to speak. This can help ensure that all participants are comfortable and confident in their ability to engage in the meeting, regardless of their prior experience with the video conferencing platform.
Plan your schedule and time for discussion
To prepare for a successful online consultation meeting, it's recommended to plan a schedule in advance that allows for sufficient time to cover the project basics and enable discussion. It's important to remember that both parties are present to learn, so it's best to avoid pretending to know everything. However, it's crucial to be clear on the aspects where feedback is needed and can have an influence.
Make sure to allocate enough time for discussion during the meeting, with a balance of at least 50/50 between presenting information and hearing feedback. To facilitate discussion, plan talking points with relevant discussion prompts based on the project and invite feedback on matters that are pertinent to the project.
Introduce the wider engagement programme
Does this event belong to a broader engagement program? Are there other specific feedback methods that you would like to direct participants to? If so, clearly state them during the meeting and provide links to those resources on a single slide. If there is another feedback stage, this can help alleviate the pressure on the meeting.
Involve a moderator
To start the meeting, introduce the team and provide some questions that participants are likely to ask or want to discuss, preferably from a previous consultation stage. Designate a moderator or facilitator from the team to lead the meeting, and assign another person to monitor the chat or provide assistance to participants who are having trouble joining the meeting. It's best to have at least two people leading the meeting to ensure its smooth running.
Consider a facilitation tool to visualise plans and record notes
During the consultation meeting, it's important to be prepared for a range of queries and discussions, from general concerns like potential traffic issues to specific details that only concern a few individuals, such as road access points near neighboring houses. To keep track of everything discussed, it's helpful to have a moderator who can take notes in an interactive tool.
There are different online tools available depending on the project stage. For earlier stages, tools like Miro are great for capturing comments and ideas when spatial plans are not yet formed. For later stages when site plans are emerging, master planning platforms like PlaceChangers are ideal for flagging additional site-specific information and directly capturing notes with participants.
Plan your follow-up
To ensure continued engagement beyond the online consultation meeting, it's important to have a designated location where participants can leave feedback and receive project updates. Directing participants to a dedicated consultation platform, like PlaceChangers, is an effective way to encourage ongoing interaction and insights, as well as communicate a commitment to listening. This consultation platform can serve as part of a broader engagement program, providing an outlet for participants to leave suggestions and stay up to date with project developments.
Your next online consultation meeting
To hold a public consultation meeting via Zoom requires effort and a degree of planning.
Online video conferencing can compensate for inability to arrange in-person meetings and can complement other consultation methods, such as online consultation portals, workshops, or surveys. We trust that the tips above serve as useful pointers to help prepare your next video call with consultation participants.
Use an online consultation meeting on Zoom or the like as an addition to your regular online engagement activities. Ideally have a dedicated forum or project website in place which you can direct participants to in advance and also in follow-up to the online consultation meeting.
Do you have any comments or points to add to the list, let us know by emailing me on seb@ placechangers.co.uk.
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