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Can remote engagement work when technology isn’t an option?

Remote house

In the absence of large gatherings, the way many of us socialise has changed dramatically. To satisfy our social side, more and more people are turning to technology. Zoom quizzes, cyber-cinema and even virtual art gallery tours are now commonplace. Businesses have also innovated by bringing services online in this evermore technology-centred world. For example, at Dialogue Matters we have produced a number of online workshops and trainings. However, sometimes, “turning to technology” doesn’t quite fit the bill.

Even without the challenges of Covid, large group meetings in rural communities are made difficult by a lack of suitable venues, poor transport links and dispersed communities. Unfortunately, bridging these gaps through technology is made troublesome due to inadequate internet services and aging populations. Our experience completing a research project into engaging rural communities and stakeholders in Scotland provided us with an opportunity to reflect on remote engagement methods that do not rely on technology. Here are a few of our tech-free solutions for engagement with hard-to-reach stakeholder groups.

1. Present and collect information using a range of methods

There are many ways of providing information to your audience. If people are not able to attend briefing events physically, another option is to create video which can be sent to people. When online viewing is not an option, try sending a DVD! When collecting information, don’t forget to make all your surveys post-friendly and available in paper form. Engagement through pen and paper also allows rich information to be collected. For example, participants may draw their ideas of land uses onto maps or provide diagrams to explain ideas.

2. Use people’s natural ability for “social learning”

When physical presence is possible, but with limited participants, we harness our human capacity for “social learning”. First, a core group of participants is selected. It’s important representatives from all stakeholder groups are included, this ensures the views of the wider community are reflected in the group. These stakeholder representatives attend workshops and provide input on behalf of their group, but it doesn’t stop here. Through “social learning” between workshops, representatives inform stakeholder groups of workshop outcomes and gather additional viewpoints to feedback at the next workshop. This method requires fewer participants, reduces travel and ensures everyone gets their say!

3. Remote discussion groups

If people can meet locally, but are unable to travel, remote discussion groups provide a travel and tech-free solution. By posting packs containing instructions on how to run a remote discussion group, “breakout sessions” can be completed remotely in local community spaces. Group discussion outcomes are returned, collated by a facilitator and then sent back to the participants.

4. Empower communities to get involved in their own local projects

Respondents to our survey in Scotland suggested environmental public bodies are doing a good job of increasing the number of people they involve in site management. Enabling people to be proactive in managing local natural areas, or producing citizen science, can require very little travel, technological intervention or physical presence.

Whilst the world innovates and moves online, we must remember the value a diversity of viewpoints brings to decision making processes. To ensure diversity in decision making, we must ensure diversity in our methods of engagement. You can find the full version of our Scottish Government report in our resource library .

“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions,
decisions, and outcomes for everyone.”

— Sundar Pichai

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