Gomm Valley Community Engagement Event

Project Details

Human + Nature is a developer building a new sustainable settlement in the Gomm Valley, Buckinghamshire. We were given 8 weeks to organise a three day community engagement and design event in June 2018, for up to 300 people to attend.

The primary aim of the event was to raise awareness about proposed development plans for the area and provide stakeholders with an opportunity to raise concerns and feed into the design proposals at a very early stage.

Unlike typical stakeholder engagement consultations, the proposed development plans and drawings were exhibited on the actual site, in an open field. This created an informal atmosphere whereby locals could have frank and honest discussions with a team of multidisciplinary specialists about the proposed plans for the area.

Process

Design and run an event with minimal carbon footprint and environmental impact by using curated suppliers sourced through our own network and through market research. This was combined with in-house technical calculations to continually assess impact.

Warming up your attendees

It is typical for participants in a session to be initially reserved and very willing to allow others to speak first. As a result, it is not unusual for the first question you ask to be met with complete and utter silence! This can be demoralizing for the facilitator, especially when it occurs at the beginning of a session—that time when you are hoping for high energy and great interaction. To avoid this deafening silence, we recommend that you warm up the group by first asking at least two questions that require a nonverbal response. Since these two pre-questions should set up your primary question, you should plan these questions in advance.

Examples of warmups

Let’s look at an example. Suppose your primary question is, “What are the benefits of planning?” In the example below, note the questions the facilitator asks and the actions the facilitator takes before asking the primary question.

Facilitator: How many people here have been involved with a project that wasn’t well planned from the beginning? (Facilitator raises hand)

It was somewhat difficult, wasn’t it? (Nods head)

You may have had such problems as a lack of understanding of the purpose, people unclear about roles, lack of commitment to action, and so on. So there are some real benefits to planning, aren’t there? (Nods head)

Let’s name a few. What are the benefits of planning? Who can tell me one? (Raises hand and calls on someone whose hand also goes up)

Inside the exhibition tents
SELCE Solar Roller

Creating engagement

The event was powered with the Solar Roller, a mobile, solar powered generator producing sufficient clean, green, silent energy to power all the equipment including electricty, including lights, fans and sound.

Pilau Pot

Typical complaints

Paul’s list of virtual speaking gripes continues: “You don’t have the feedback from the audience. You can’t see who is frowning. You can’t see who is smiling. You can’t see how many people are on their phones. You have no idea who’s got good video reception, or audio reception, or what size screen they’re looking at.”

Maria agrees that not being able to see the audience is perhaps the biggest problem. “As a speaker you’re speaking to a wall. You have no idea who is out there. Are they bored, or super-interested? I’d love feedback: heart emojis, I expand on a point I’m making; sleepy faces, I move on to the next slide.”

embed short videos into your introduction to give participants a taste of the energy and experience in the room.

Typical problems

  • Not starting on time because of “technical difficulties.”

Firewalls and other blockages preventing full participation from key members.

Lack of engagement from users who may use the time to multi-task rather than pay full attention.

Unresolved conflict because non-verbal signals of disagreement or dissent are not visible to the presenter or leader.

Lack of purpose/preparation.

Community transport

A community shuttle bus ran between the nearest railway station and the event all day long, stopping at points along the route to pick up and drop off local attendees.  This was also beneficial in reducing emissions from individual cars travelling to the site.

Cleaner air, lower transport emissions

 I presented standing up rather than sitting down.  This made the talk much more dynamic than when I practiced it sitting down, and certainly closer to the way I would give a talk in person

 

– I left the video feed of the session chair at the bottom of my screen, and it was very helpful to see him nodding and thinking about what I was saying.  I think in general when we give a talk we tend to pick a person or two in the audience and talk more towards them, and talking to the chair had a similar effect

 

– I put a big clock in front of me to keep track of time.  This really helped me pace myself and more importantly leave time for questions.

 

– To reduce my stress of the internet possibly disconnecting, I had a backup option which was my voice connection over the phone (through zoom phone call) and my slides could be presented by the chair while I spoke.  I did not need to use this option, but it certainly reduced my stress levels.

 

– The question/answering at the end did not work so well.  When I finished the talk, the chair asked the audience to post questions and while waiting he asked a couple of questions himself so after that there was only time for one audience question.  Instead, I would suggest that the chair tells the audience at the beginning to send questions during the talk, so the chair has questions ready when the talk ends.  I used that kind of approach when I chaired an ACM Learning Webinar some years ago, where there were about 1,000 people online and I collected about 30 questions from them during the talk so I had a chance to organize them and was ready to ask them when the speaker ended.

Cycle racks

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