by Jessica Delaney, Principal, Engagement + Strategic Communications
Different regions are in different places with the pandemic and increasingly, many are seeking in-person opportunities to engage, particularly when seeking to engage seldom-heard voices. The challenge of course is balancing access and safety. At a recent conference someone said they ask their team: “is this meeting swab worthy?” as a way of understanding the priority of in-person engagement. As we look ahead to 2022, it is very likely that a new third approach will emerge in engagement: the hybrid, where some people will be engaging virtually at the same time as others are engaging in-person. This will require the facilitator to not only have one agenda, but three: one for in-person, one for virtual, and a plan to connect the two.
What the pandemic has demonstrated is that inequities in how we engage are very real. Whether it’s engaging people who are immunocompromised and don’t feel safe engaging in-person, or people who don’t have access to technology and can’t easily engage virtually, it would appear that trying to be as inclusive as possible will continue to be key to how we plan our engagements in 2022 and beyond.
A few tips to help:
- Be guided by public health orders and have a safety plan.
- Don’t under-scope the effort required to plan and implement a hybrid approach. There’s no way around it: it’s more work.
- Avoid the temptation of over-representing in-person participation. How people engage should not distinguish the importance of their contributions.
- Ensure you develop ways to reconnect with participants: to communicate exposures, to share information, or to re-engage.
Every community and group will have their own comfort/ability in returning to in-person engagement. There should always be options, choice for how people participate, and opportunities that improve access without jeopardizing safety.