Community Engagement during COVID-19

Even in the face of social distancing, we need to keep engaging with our site neighbours.

An insight from our Director of Research, Chelsea van Riet.

Community Engagement Toolkit Presentation 2019

In the words of Dory the fish, “just keep swimming”.

That’s what we need to do on the community engagement front. Even in the face of social distancing, we need to keep engaging with our site neighbours. We may be physically isolated but we can still engage in an authentic way without breaking the new laws of social interaction during this pandemic.

The Institute has, with the support of our Industry Leaders Research Group and Construction Skills Queensland, undertaken an enormous amount of research on community consultation. We know what people want and what they don’t. We’ve shared this intelligence with members through our Being a good neighbour guide and our follow up Community Engagement Toolkit. These resources remain available to members by contacting us. Admittedly these were written pre-pandemic.

So how can you adjust your approach to keep the community engaged? Because development must go on. If we stop, a major part of the economy stops. Our success is critical to housing supply and employment across the State. We must keep delivering throughout this crisis, and our policy team is working hard to get this point across to all levels of government.

The rules of engagement remain unchanged.

They will always be:

  • Engage early and often
  • Use images to communicate
  • Offer project contacts (one of each gender) for the life of the project, preferably your own staff
  • Genuinely value people and their input
  • Segment your stakeholders.

Whilst the rules haven’t changed your modes of communication will need to be adjusted to suit the current limitations on face-to-face interaction.

Here’s some ideas:

  • Record and post site updates via video that stakeholders can watch when it suits them.
    It doesn’t have to be fancy. A recording taken on your phone with a gimbal will suffice. You can jump online and order a gimbal to your door, no human interaction required!
  • Start a closed Facebook group for your nearest and dearest stakeholders.
    Social distancing means we are craving more online interaction to compensate. Offer this option to the stakeholders it suits to receive updates via this channel.
  • Go old school and pick up the phone.
    If you’ve forgotten that your phone can make calls, now is the time to rediscover this capability. Those stakeholders who remember life before mobiles will probably appreciate a call more so than your text-loving millennials (who will think you are weird for calling them).
  • Leave a note
    Australia Post is still operating and you can either do your letterbox drop personally (maintaining social distancing) or get the postie to do it. A quick note (handwritten is a nice touch) or a newsletter including your mobile number can still be delivered during these unusual times. Those working from home might even appreciate some mail that isn’t a bill!

Keep in mind that with more people working from home, any site works are going to have greater than usual impact.

Neighbours are trying to work, deal with kids stuck at home, and all the usual pressures of daily life amplified by the inability to escape, even to the local coffee shop.

As a result, your neighbours might be less tolerant of noise, dust, tradies parked in front of their house, or road closures. That’s why it’s important to make sure they can contact you and feel comfortable raising issues. Their problems might seem insignificant but listening to them might defer complaints to council or a bagging on social media.

Finally, don’t underestimate the value of just being a good neighbour. Check on your neighbours. Show them genuine concern and empathy and they will no doubt return the kindness in spades. We are all navigating the unknown and it’s nicer to do it together.

If you’ve got any community engagement queries get in touch via email and we would be happy to help you brainstorm solutions and supply copies of the guide and toolkit.

This article was originally published in our establish magazine. 

View establish magazine