Digital tools can empower those that are naturally excluded from traditional engagement environments, such as drop-in events, workshops or public meetings. But do digital tools have a role in these offline settings, too?

The biggest benefit of using digital tools to invite input on built environment projects is the opportunity for the 'silent majority', people with busy lives, children and more pressing responsibilities, to get involved. They can whip out their smartphone and get involved at home in front of the TV, at work, or even in the pub, without having to go out of their way to visit a drop-in event or navigate complex systems to comment on a planning application.

But most people in the planning and development industry, even fervent advocates of digital engagement tools like us at Participatr, will uphold that face-to-face engagement will always have a role to help provide context to complex issues, stimulate discussion and debate, assuage instinctive fears about change, give people extra encouragement to get involved and catch people in their usual environment, such as a school or shopping centre.

But does offline engagement have to be analogue in every sense? Here are four 'offline' scenarios where can digital tools empower project teams and participants:

Empowering the naturally reluctant to offer their insight

Sometimes people need encouragement and guidance to get involved, such as school children. For example, a teacher may wish to capture their pupils' ideas for an area that is about to be regenerated. The teacher could arm their pupils with iPads (if they dare), take the pupils around the area and prompt them to highlight suggestions and submit their ideas whilst they're on the move, uploading photos and using GPS to highlight suggestions for their current location.

Capturing feedback 'on-foot'

For planning and development teams, going to people in their natural habitat is often more realistic than asking them to come to you in yours. Shopping centres, schools and sports events are places where lots of people congregate and provide a great opportunity to capture insight from 'ordinary people'. Having your consultation website loaded up on a tablet can provide a quick and easy way for you to pose questions and capture insight in a hurry.

Cutting out the paper and the extra work

The usual way to capture community insight at a drop-in event or workshop is to ask people to write comments on a piece of paper, such as a questionnaire or post-it note. At some point, some poor soul is going to have to 'type-it-up', creating extra work and costs. Why not cut out the paper and ask people to pinpoint a place-based issue on a touchscreen instead of pinning a post-it note to a paper map, or ask them to type their comments directly into a digital form?

Managing your data more intelligently

So capturing all of your feedback digitally might not be possible, so you need some way of analysing all of your data as one? Many digital engagement platforms have a 'back office' function to allow your project team to input data captured offline, analyse your online and offline feedback seamlessly as one, spot trends and produce reports, without the risk of multiple people recording data differently and running into problems with consistency.

Get in touch with us to find out more about how Participatr's digital tools can transform offline as well as online engagement.

Written by Paul Erskine-Fox - Founder, Participatr

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