When it comes to facilitating the community engagement and consultation process, the Internet is likely one of the best channels for providing stakeholders with consistent, open access to communication.
That being said, universal access to quality Internet connectivity still remains an issue for certain geographic locations and some segments of the population.
In order to make your online stakeholder consultation as accessible as possible, consider these 9 tactics:
- Use an integrated approach – Don’t isolate online community engagement from other consultation tactics. Online tools can compliment, broaden and deepen the experience gained from traditional methods, improving their effectiveness and reach.
- Leverage your libraries – If you are a municipality or community organization, consider training your local librarians to help citizens access and understand how to use your web site. If possible, ask the library to make your consultation site the default home page on their computers.
- Internet kiosks – Install Internet “kiosks” in public places and limit access to your project and perhaps a few related service providers such as city councils, government agencies, NGOs, etc. Also, make sure your project is always the default home page.
- Publicly accessible computers – Be sure to have a few computers with Internet access available at any of your organization’s public events including open houses, public meetings, public information kiosks, etc.
- Project Internet Cafe – Purchase a series of Internet only laptops and create your own project specific “internet cafe” as part of an information centre. Netbook computers are affordable relative to the overall cost of a major project or initiative and can be used over and over again.
- Community centres – Work with local community and youth centres to promote access, perhaps at specific designated times or events.
- Rent a local internet cafe for a day – make an event of it, publicize free net access but make it conditional on contributing to your consultation.
- Buy key stakeholders a Netbook – Web access laptops are becoming more and more affordable. If you want to do ongoing targeted stakeholder engagement with a small group of people without computer and internet access, it might be a worthwhile investment to purchase one for them. The gift of the laptop could be a “thank you” for taking the time to be involved in the consultation process – and you would be leaving your stakeholders with new skills and capacity to engage in future projects.
- Use Small Files – If broadband Internet access or quality is questionable be sure not to use video and save/share documents in chunks – these smaller file sizes will be more easily downloadable. Break up large documents into chapters, and divide maps into manageable sections.