How to Run Effective Community Engagement for K-12 Facilities Master Planning.

Using a new tool to maximize your community outreach efforts and strategy during facilities master planning projects.

How to Run Effective Community Engagement for K-12 Facilities Master Planning.
Photos: Natomas Unified School District

Written by Josh Sanabria, CEO of GoArchitect.

If you're here, you probably already know what facilities master planning is. You know that it is a unique blend of design, finance, and most of all, community buy-in.

Community buy-in itself is a blend of components that challenge every team member to think about the needs of diverse stakeholders. Whether that feedback comes from parents, staff, or the general public, it plays a role in building support for the master plan and a possible bond.

The Challenges of Community Engagement

Despite community engagement being such a core part of facilities master planning, the precise strategy is often complicated. Gathering feedback is expensive, time consuming, and the return on investment isn't always clear.

1. Low Meeting Turnout can Drain your Team

I've faced these challenges firsthand. You plan for a community meeting at an elementary school, drive 45 minutes to the campus, setup, and then 3 people show up. Despite your and the district's best efforts, these meetings often don't represent anything close to comprehensive or statistically relevant input.

Deflating, to say the least.

2. Quality Data Collection is Difficult

Even with a good turnout, data from these meetings can be difficult to organize, categorize, and explain. I've seen well-attended sticky note sessions with parents go sideways when you later realize notes are missing, you can't read bad handwriting, or that someone has to manually type all the notes into a document.

This easily leads to good feedback being slow to reach the team or getting lost entirely.

3. Results from Community Meetings are Often Difficult to Visualize

To me, this is the one that hurts the most. If you do have a good meeting and diligently translate the feedback you're still left wondering how to share the results in a way that is understandable to all stakeholders.

Manual community engagement methods don't often transition well because the feedback gathered from participants isn't in a form that can be easily displayed or reshared.

How do you realistically show 30 hand-written sticky notes? Each time you change the method of visualizing the information you risk losing contextual information.

One example is where a participant placed the sticky note on an image. How do you show not only what they said but where on the image they said it about?

What is the solution to lackluster community meetings?

You might expect me to say, "give up on in-person meetings." However, that's not realistic because we both know they are often a political or contractual requirement for a facilities master plan.

Purpose-built Technology

We can make community outreach more effective through better technology that helps us gather feedback from a blended audience of in-person and digital participants. We can transform hands-on activities, like sticky notes, into powerful yet approachable digital activities that gather data for review, prioritization, and action.

Engage was purpose-built to help facility master planners like you.

Engage is an online community engagement survey tool designed specifically for master planning professionals. It was borne out of the needs that we observed across dozens of projects.

Its core features are directly applicable to the master planning process where you are working to reach diverse stakeholders and come out the other end with high-quality and actionable feedback.

Engage digitizes familiar activities, like sticky notes, to gather important community insights.

Sticky note activities are a classic method for gathering subjective feedback on images, site plans, and much more. While popular, this method risks being plagued by logistical issues and limited scale.

Engage takes this classic approach and moves it online to gather subjective feedback from many stakeholders, at once; you'll never have to print another board again.

Here is a simple example. Take it for a spin and leave a sticky note.

Sticky Notes are incredible but often messy. Not anymore.

Sticky note surveys with Engage can be emailed to parents, staff, and all stakeholders at once. People can respond on their own time but still have a digital hands-on experience as they leave sticky notes on aerial views, site plans, or any image relevant to your project.

Digital & In-Person Meetings

Engage sticky notes create the opportunity for a fully-digital outreach strategy. If you still want to have in-person meetings, that is fine too. During your meetings, you can provide the same Engage sticky note survey to all participants. They can complete it on their smartphones from a QR code or even be guided by your team members one-on-one. One strategy is for each team member to have an iPad and speak with attendees to complete the survey alongside them.

Since everyone is responding to the same survey, all data is being collected in one place.

You can see this feedback come in immediately and apply it to your work right away. Your team doesn't have to wait to translate the information, its ready from day one.

You'll save time and money with Engage.

Team members will thank you for not having to transcribe participant's messy handwriting, you'll spend less on printing, and you'll avoid losing feedback responses in the shuffle of takedown or travel.

Share results publicly and privately

An essential component of master planning is not only gathering feedback but displaying it in a way that people understand. The sticky notes results dashboard is an important part of strategic transparency.

Here is an example results dashboard from the engagement earlier in this article. If you haven't already, leave a sticky note and see it shown live on the results dashboard instantly.

What about something more than subjective responses on sticky notes?

Engage was created with master planning in mind. We know that subjective sticky notes aren't always the right approach. Sometimes, you need hard numbers that show support for specific initiatives.

This is where Action Dots come in. Here is an example action dots survey. Take it for a spin and vote for which projects you think should be prioritized.

Action Dots are an important prioritization tool.

Engage Action dots allow you to place dots on top of an image that participants can rate from 1-5 stars.

These dots may represent many things. For example, participants can help to prioritize projects by rating which projects they think should come first and receive funding. One dot can be a new Solar Panel and another can be the Renovation of the Science Wing. Whichever project receives a higher average vote, gets prioritized.

Actions dots are a powerful way to gather quantifiable data that helps build the case for prioritization. Rather than asking binary yes/no or completely open subjective questions, you allow people to vote on a gradient. This allows for nuanced information that is still actionable.

Below is an example results dashboard from an action dots survey.

Engage helps you gather high-quality responses and data.

In addition to new survey types like sticky notes and action dots, Engage can help improve the overall quality of your community engagement efforts with demographic questions like name, email, and more.

Questions like:

  1. How are you connected to this school? (Parent, Teacher, Student, etc)
  2. How important is ____ to you? (Safety, New Buildings, Shade, etc.)
  3. What is your email? (Allows us to follow-up with participants later.)

Engage can help with lead generation to support your initiative.

Gathering emails can be particularly important since you can build a base of supports for your bond or other initiatives. Since demographic questions, like email, can be combined with sticky notes or action dots, you never lose an opportunity to gather participant's information.

Without Engage, these important participant demographics are lost. You need to be gathering this information to build support for whatever your strategy will be.

Engage is more than a survey tool. It is a critical and strategic element in helping your master plan be successful. Whether the goal is to pursue a bond, state funding, or something else, data plays an important role in the process.

Community Engagement for K-12 Facilities Master Planning is an important part of your work. Your tools should be built for what you do.

Engage is free to get started and even our pro plans are affordable.

You will save hours gathering feedback and be empowered with powerful and actionable data that you wouldn't have gathered otherwise.

The best part is that the Engage team made this tool for professionals like you.

Setup a 30-min free call with me

I'm available to jump on a video call and walk you through the logistical and strategic ways you can use Engage in your work.

Engage - Chat with Josh Sanabria - Joshua Sanabria
Welcome! Use this page to set up a 30-minute video call with Engage creator, Josh Sanabria.

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If you don't need this hands-on guidance or you want to take a look around first, sign up for Engage for free and check it out.

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Engage makes it easy for designers & planners to gather important insights from stakeholders.

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