Why live community forums are making a comeback

(Image: Brisbane City Council Intergenerational Forum)

In the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of attending a number of live community forums in South East Queensland. While attending these forums it struck me how much has changed in community engagement practices in the past ten years.

Ten years ago most organisations were completely resistant to hosting public meetings due negative and hostile experiences with the community. Instead organisations had a strong preference for carefully selecting participants to invitation-only meetings and workshops. This option seemed far less risky for organisations wanting to engage with the community.

More recently live community forums, with open invitations, seem to be making a comeback.

There are a number of possible reasons for this latest trend in community engagement:

  1. Human connection

People are craving real connections with each other and organisations since the growth of social media and online engagement. Having a meaningful conversation over a coffee, biscuit or sandwich is a definite drawcard for the community of participating in live forums. Live in-person forums also encourage greater understanding among the community and between the organisation and the community. Sometimes this fosters consensus among the community. It also exposes community members to other’s perspectives.

  1. Genuine engagement

More and more the community are expecting opportunities to be genuinely and meaningfully engaged on projects and decisions that directly affect them. A live in-person forum allows an organisation to educate and upskill the community on particular topics, as well as gain valuable community knowledge and information, in a short space of time.

  1. Rich data

Organisations are able to obtain much richer data during live forums and gain a deeper understanding of the community’s ideas and concerns. Live in-person forums also foster collaboration between individuals, especially in a small group setting, which leads to richer community based ideas (more heads are better than one).

The use of digital technology in a live community forum, such as augmented reality and live polling, enhances the engagement experience for both the community and the organisation.

What do you think? Have you noticed this trend towards live community forums?

What examples have you seen of best practice in-person community forums?