Virtual Public Meetings and the Benefits to the Planning Process

Community planning takes human interactions to be effective. In the past two years, our general approach to public engagement and meetings had to be reconsidered. Organizations faced with a global pandemic from all sectors, including private and public businesses, government agencies, churches, and educational institutions have had to utilize technology as an alternative to meeting together in board rooms, city halls, and community centers.

Although everyone was thrown into rapid adoption of collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoTo Meetings, and others, our professionals have adapted and learned a lot in the past two years.

AHBL navigated the technology learning curve along with our coworkers, peers, and clients. Our planning teams faced the additional challenge of not only attending virtual meetings but also leading and facilitating meetings designed to gather input from the community. A leading goal of AHBL of community planners is ensuring all voices are heard, recorded, and considered before policy and code changes and implementation. Our planners lead public participation opportunities to share concepts, solicit input from the public and advocate on behalf of our clients.

Lisa Klein, a land planner and associate principal, based in our Tacoma, WA headquarters has led and participated in many of these virtual meetings since March of 2000. She sees many of the pros of utilizing technology. She shared these below:

Top 4 Advantages

  1. Visual preparation and organization enhancement. The ability to create clear messaging about the project through the required thorough preparation it takes for running and participating in virtual meetings enhanced public engagement.
  2. Getting down to business. With the pandemic and virtual meetings, there has been less time in meetings for informal interaction and conversations, and more of the meeting time focused on the business at hand.
  3. Keep it interesting.  The ability to use virtual meeting technology tools to host a presentation, record it, share illustrative materials, engage in polling and voting exercises, and facilitate the public comment process enhances the process through the use of the software engagement tools such as buttons, raising a hand, sharing the screen, and leaving comments in the chatbox.
  4. Convenience matters.  Many participants have commented that less time spent traveling to meetings, and consuming gas made the meetings easier to attend and increased their participation. Other noted benefits such as not needing to get childcare.
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