Email can be an effective tool in community engagement processes

Electronic updates can help residents and other stakeholders stay informed during community engagement processes.

The widespread use of technology has made electronic communication possible, and in some instances almost mandatory. Laptops, electronic tablets and smart phones allow the easy flow of information between the various devices. They can also be a low-cost method of community engagement. Michigan State University Extension is working with the City of Inkster to develop a community asset plan, an economic strategy to focus on positive assets in order to build economic vitality.

Since the project’s inception in 2013, two targeted community engagement sessions have been held. Currently, MSU Extension staff is conducting community focus groups throughout the City and the number of participants requesting electronic communication is growing. While many residents will need traditional forms of communication such as written notices and flyers, many residents have asked to be placed on an email list to receive periodic updates on the progress being made on the project. While some consider traditional email almost as outdated as regular postal mail, for residents of this low-income community, it is proving to be an effective communication tool.

Once a master list is created, the process of providing updates is more than easy. More time can be given to the content of the updates than the means of communication. However, some systems may treat the updates as spam and so residents must check their trash when they do not receive the information.

The goal of the email updates is also to maintain interest and momentum as the project moves toward the last phase of development: a four-day community charrete/engagement activity that will result in the creation of a draft strategic asset plan. Multiple ways of communication with stakeholders and residents in the community engagement processes have become the norm for effective community input. For some, electronic communication has become their principal means of staying connected on topics and activities of interest. For professionals engaged to community plan creation, a variety of methods must be utilized to reach a diverse and varied population.

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