Community Engagement During COVID-19: Virtual Hangout Notes

Posted on April 9, 2020

Karen Tapahe

These are the notes from the April 3, 2020 virtual hangout on local government community engagement during COVID-19.

Virtual Hangout Notes: Community Engagement

Friday, April 3, 2020

Special Guest: Karen Tapahe, City of Provo, UT

  • Introduction by Allie Breyer, ELGL’s Digital Coordinator.
  • Today’s special guest is Karen Tapahe with the City of Provo, UT.

What has been successful in your community engagement strategies so far?

  • Provo has a “PIO Group” comprised of all of the communications people from all departments. This was convened by the Mayor (Provo has a strong mayor form of government). This allowed the communications staff from all departments to work together and share information. They have matching jackets! 
  • Knowing what people are wondering, what questions they have, what concerns they have – that’s an essential role for government social media coordinators and then the city staff can respond based on what they’re hearing and learning from the community.
  • The PIO Group uses Trello to track what they’re doing so everyone is on the same page.

Does the PIO Group have any “turf wars?”

  • The group set a goal to “stay in your lane.” There hasn’t been much conflict in who handles what, but every so often, there’s an issue where someone forgets to tell the group and then there’s a communications breakdown.

Are you dealing with misinformation? How do you deal with it?

  • Yes, and Utah has not done a state-level “stay at home” order, and so cities and counties are handling this in their own ways and this can confuse people. On social media, they tend to wait and see if the community course corrects the discussion. We keep a Google document to our answers, so if the same question comes up in different channels, we are all answering in the same way.

Are you doing any type of virtual engagement for employees to keep them connected?

  • The Provo Chief Administrative Officer will soon start doing more communications to employees. There was sense that employees were being left out. So the CAO started a blog and is doing updates on the cases in the area, and what’s going on. He’s also doing some fun things – to keep it lighthearted and “getting to know you” approach. Employees didn’t like being out of the loop.
  • Karen started a Facebook Live discussion for her Neighborhood Liaisons to keep them together.
  • Nina Vetter from Pueblo West, CO records videos to share with her employees about what’s happening. They had just started doing live community meetings, and it’s a bummer to lose that momentum, so now they’re looking into how to do that online.
  • Susan Barkman said that Broomwood, CO is doing “beautiful” public meetings online. More information here
  • Karen had heard about the Zoom settings to avoid “Zoombombing” so they were able to set all of their settings to limit the risk on this.

Other topics or issues related to effective communications and engagement?

  • Karen found it helpful to find out who each person in each department was who was/could provide information and brought them together so they were working as a team.
  • The “stay in your lane” concept is important so people know they are respected as the communicator for their department.
  • And, it’s essential to have a gathering place for information so everyone can work together from the same tools. Trello, Google Docs, MSTeams – all of these tools can work well. And making assignments is also key.

More resources:


  • From Graham Stone,


      • If anyone is looking for turnkey software to run meetings like Susan shared, we have been heads down on this for the past two weeks. Link


  • From Assaf Frances,


      • Best Practice for Effective Messaging Report around Covid-19: Link


  • From Michelle Stephens, Bang the Table:


      • Olympia, Tacoma and Edina are using EngagementHQ for public meetings/hearings. They are just starting, so I can’t wait to see how this changes the way public meetings are managed. 


  • “Give a Kaufusi” video:


      • Mayor Kaufusi used her two NFL-player sons to demonstrate social distancing in this unique video: Link 


  • Also from Mayor Kaufusi:


    • Short videos our mayor has done (Conversations with Kaufusi): Link
    • Effective tools from State College, PA: getting everyone on board and using the same messages to communicate out to the public. They’ve also started having virtual meetings with their neighborhood associations to keep them in the loop. As a college town, this is essential so people understand not just city issues but also the university issues.
  • Example from South Bend, IN: Venues, Parks and Arts are doing daily virtual engagements with residents. Link 
  • Example from Perry, GA: doing in-car scavenger hunts for community members. Everything is drive-by and people aren’t getting out of their cars. Same concept and they’re doing a “safari” with stuffed animals and then there’s a virtual map for the community to log their animals on. Have reached 30,000 people with the map.
  • Assaf Frances from Zencity shares that they’ve seen a 225% increase in mayoral communications during this time, because people are expecting their city to be more communicative during this time. Here’s a link to this research.
  • Graham Stone echoes Affaf’s comments and findings. He’s seeing so many people seeking out and wanting more information about local services and impacts. This time in the spotlight is our opportunity to build lasting relationships with residents so let’s not let that pass us by.

Concept: Communications Preparedness

  • Karen shares that this is the idea that you’re not reacting, you’re prepared for whatever comes your way. And also the importance and value of finding groups like ELGL and GSMCon to share information and resources.

Role of Art in Public Health Messaging

  • Lynn Osgood from CivicArts reminds people of yesterday’s webinar about using arts to help community outreach and engagement on public health topics. Musicians streaming concerts, art exhibits online, and more – these things can lift up a community, strengthen it, and help people through tough times. She also reminds us that people rece4ive and process everything in different ways so we need to adapt and adjust the ways we communicate; there’s not just one  way to share information.

More Discussion:

    • Infographics and memes are instantly digestible.
    • Remember to accommodate disabilities in communications and outreach.
    • Local governments doing how-to videos on things like making masks are valuable.
    • Key quote from Assaf about being a resource for good information:


  • “People might not remember what you did, but they will definitely remember what you didn’t do.”


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