Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many community meetings shifted online in the past two-plus years. While not ideal, virtual engagement does offer certain benefits, such as making it easier for some members of the public to participate in meetings from the comfort of their homes without having to travel or arrange for childcare. In this article, park planner Clement Lau discusses the use of the latest tools for community engagement, and data collection and analysis, focusing on the following topics:
- Map-based Surveys
- Live Polling
- Live Notetaking
- Use of Data from Fitness Apps
- Use of Cellphone Generated Human Mobility Data
Nothing can replace the connections and opportunities for relationship-building that in-person meetings and other activities provide. However, there are tools that can help make virtual meetings more engaging, interactive and even fun. Also, online surveys can be much more relatable and visually appealing (than just a standard list of questions) when interactive maps, photos and graphics are included. In addition, there are now sources through which accurate mobility data may be acquired to measure park access, usage, and visitorship without conducting labor- and time-intensive studies at individual park sites.
While there are certainly limitations and costs associated with the use of technology and the above tools and data sources, it is becoming increasingly important that park planners add tech-savviness to good old-fashioned customer service in order to better understand and meet the needs of communities.