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The return of 'face to face' Consultation?

Inhabiting the space between online and direct engagement to deliver engaging yet personable consultation events.

Credit: EPLS Design

The Coronavirus outbreak has profoundly impacted the ways in which we navigate public life, including but not limited to how we undertake consultation events at Thirty4/7 Communications.


Since March 2020, along with the rest of the world, we've sought to adapt our ways of operating to cope with local and national lockdowns, restrictions and a changing way of life. Moving consultation 'online' has been a great success in many ways - the digital packages available are excellent and many have seen an increase in engagement levels as a result, especially with a broader range of demographics and age groups.


Online engagement and the various tools we've all come to adopt is here to stay.

However, last month we've begun undertaking events in person once again - and for all the benefits of hosting a Zoom webinar, or allowing people to walk around a virtual exhibition, it has reminded us of the real benefit of those face to face meetings and discussions.


Granted, there was a significant difference in process, risk assessments, operation and programming for the events - and more hand sanitiser and track and trace forms than you can shake a stick at - but it was worth it. Attendees at all our recent events have been happy to queue, happy to wash hands, wear masks, follow one way systems and abide by the Covid regulations.


The return of face-to-face consultation events has meant that we have been able to connect key stakeholders with members of the public on a range of planning projects, ensuring that communities feel involved in the planning process. Face-to-face interactions have numerous benefits including building stronger relationships and trust, as well as resulting in a higher quality of discussion and avoiding misunderstandings.


So which is better? What are we going to be doing as we emerge from this global pandemic?


At Thirty4/7 Communications, we are always looking at how best to adapt our approach to maximise the effectiveness off our consultations. Looking ahead, we are working on the basis that, for significant planning projects, a hybrid approach to consultation is the way forward. Effective consultation - one that provides best access to local communities to involve themselves in the process - is one that utilises online, digital mechanisms, but retains face to face engagement at its core.


Bringing the digital into the physical world is the next step, and one that we're looking closely at - with 3D digital modelling at events, virtual reality and combined online/physical events and meetings, there are many ways in which consultation can continue to evolve. Here's a video of one used recently at one of our events (credit 3DW).

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the ways in which we communicate and engage with one another, and it is now the time to embrace new technologies, in ways which compliment communication channels of old.


Get in touch if you'd like to discuss how these changes could potentially affect your consultation events. We'd love to share experiences and understand where things have worked or caused problems in recent months as the world adapts to the return to normal life.

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