Will Crisis Engagement Become Engagement?

Posted on June 1, 2020

remote meeting graphic

I’m Jessica VanderKolk, Communications Manager for the City of Battle Creek, Michigan. Talk to me on Twitter and LinkedIn!

What I’m readingUntamed by Glennon Doyle

What I’m watchingASMR videos to relax my brain, while I work and before I sleep

What I’m doing — Running as much as I can, and spending time alone in my hammock

I imagine many of you, like me, rarely go a day without Zooming (or Go-To-Meeting, or Google-Meeting). The coronavirus pandemic has sent many of us online for our work and meetings.

If your state is like ours, that includes the public meetings you typically would hold in person — an executive order from our governor allows remote public meetings through June 30 (right now). This has changed our public meeting dynamic in some interesting ways, and, as a communications professional, I already wonder if the changes we have made by necessity will carry over when we begin to reopen city facilities.

To meet the requirements — and go a little further — a great group of staff have the following routine going for our boards and committees that must meet right now —

We plan the meeting via Zoom. This is the service we started with, and meets the requirements we need to provide for public participation. We don’t share the URL outside the board or committee; our neighbors can call in by phone and enter a meeting ID number to participate by listening to the meeting, or offering public comment. We also promote that they can email our City Clerk, or submit written comments into our payment drop box.

We stream the meetings on Facebook Live. At first, this was a little squirrely, and our IT Director now clears her cache and restarts her computer before each meeting — sounds superstitious, but it works. We do not take official public comment in the stream comments, but I monitor each meeting, answering live what I can, and taking other comments and questions to the board and staff afterward.

This is the only way our public can “attend” meetings right now, and it seems to give access to hundreds — sometimes over 1,000 — people, when many of these meetings usually don’t attract an audience at all. We can all agree local governments hold a lot of meetings, but these cover engaging topics for our communities — like lead water service pipe replacements, public transportation services, and economic development.

Facebook Zooms
A glance at some recent Battle Creek Facebook videos.

I have some great conversations with neighbors on the stream. I have watched our neighbors learn about these topics, and helped them find meeting agendas on our website, or connect with other staff.

And I’ve promoted these meetings on social media like never before. The promotion and the traffic prompt questions that nag me — why didn’t we promote every meeting when people could attend in person? Why didn’t we stream to our Facebook page before, giving people the chance to watch live from their homes, or come back to the video another time?

These are the questions we will work through as a team when restrictions ease, and it is safe to meet in person. But we already are thinking about them now, as we gear up for another month of meetings. No doubt, it is much more work for our IT Director and me, promoting and Zooming on every meeting.

But. For the result of more engagement with our community? To better reach neighbors where they are? The case of the Zoomies might be worth it.

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