The Covid-19 crisis has thrown up plenty of challenges, but also presented some good opportunity for innovation

As a business specialising in digital engagement, the Covid-19 crisis has still been a huge challenge. This is because we've been forced to think about how our digital tools can be relied on a lot more and operate in a standalone sense, where we are used to them being used in tandem with traditional 'analogue' methods.

But we're also used to our tools being deployed in a 'digital-first' sense, where they are the main focus and medium for a conversation with a community. The crisis has given us the chance to innovate, look at what others are doing and see what we can do differently. Here are a few examples:

East Street Vision, Bristol

This has been a really exciting project to work on and a first for us on many fronts. It was a first chance to work with the excellent Streets Reimagined, community-led urban design specialists, who have complemented the digital platform that we created with a really effective programme of one-to-one conversations with trusted stakeholders in the diverse community around this busy shopping street.

This local engagement process not only got the word out fast, but also helped build a real sense of trust and openness in the process. Instead of simply doing blanket publicity by post or social media, Streets Reimagined set out to have some socially-distanced one-to-one conversations with people in the community who could help spread the word, such as business and faith groups, and outline the importance of getting involved in terms that different local audiences could understand.

Our job was to create an easy-to-use platform with an interactive place map for people to highlight parts of the street that they liked, things that could be improved, issues with the public realm and some really jolly ideas for how the street could be improved illustrated with uploaded images. This was complemented by six different surveys aimed at different local groups, including businesses, residents, cyclists and those with physical impairments.

The consultation attracted over 1,000 responses in just a few weeks and our real-time analysis tools allowed the project team to delve deep into community sentiments and move quickly on to the next stage of the design process with this insight in their pockets.

Silverthorne Lane, Bristol

This has been a long term project for us and one that we're really proud to be involved with. We've provided a digital engagement hub for the project, taking it through from early-stage discussions with the community through to the current stage where it is about to be considered by Bristol City Council's committee.

The current remit is to retain momentum and keep the community updated, which our long-term project partner Sulis Public Affairs has worked hard to do at a social-distance. We recently updated the website to display the current iteration of the plans and this has given us the opportunity to deploy our new masterplan overlay tool, highlighting the regeneration plans with information pop-ups on an interactive map of the site. This shows the current masterplan within its wider context, allowing the visitor to click and view further information, switch map view and zoom into points of reference on the map to better understand how the plans relate to them.

Wedmore Grange Phase 3, Somerset

The 'digital-first' engagement plan for this project remained largely unchanged moving into the Covid-19 crisis, but is a good example of how to do distanced engagement effectively. The hands-on planning team at Strongvox Homes held some really positive pre-application discussions with Sedgemoor District Council, Wedmore Parish Council and key local stakeholders prior to the lockdown, setting-up us up nicely for the wider community engagement process which was always intended to be carried out online.

Some proactive promotion by local stakeholders in the community was complemented by postcard publicity to the whole village, which included a good amount of detail about the plans, the engagement website address and a range of other options to get in touch should they be unable to get online. Having anticipated a high volume of phone calls from the community, we set-up a consultation helpline with a digital voice mailbox to manage the queue of enquiries from local people and make sure that they all had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss what they needed to with the engagement team.

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