‘Connections’ Ep. 2: Checking in on Community Engagement

For the second episode of our Learning from Crisis “Connections” series, we followed up on our well-received webinar on Community Engagement in a Covid-19 world, meeting (online, of course!) with three people working at the heart of these processes – and trying to get them right!

  • Jenna Goldberg – Director, London Communications Agency
  • Jamal Miah – Community Liaison Advisor, LB Camden (West Kentish Town Estate)
  • Sib Trigg – Architect & Community Organiser, People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH)

In sum, local authorities have done a brilliant – some say surprising – job moving community engagement online on the heels of lifesaving health, food and contact support. All our guests agreed that online on its own is just a substitute for live events, but the debate they had about how it is opening doors v. limiting on-the-day engagement is bound to unfold as we emerge from lockdown. We’ll be watching, and invite you to share your stories.

Listen to the podcast to hear from them and see a few of their key points below.


“If you had said in March that we were going to plan for a mass digitisation of consultation and that London’s public sector was going to lead that charge, you’d have been thinking two-three year programme, it’s unlimited public funds, there’ll be a couple of catastrophes along the way, but, no, it’s taken everyone maybe six weeks to adapt…It’s a fluid situation but I have been hugely impressed.” – Jenna Goldberg


There are some really compelling insights and examples from this wide-ranging group so we hope you listen, but if you’re working on engagement yourself, here are just a few excerpts you might find useful:

There’s a debate about the balance between the merits of live v. online consultation events:

  • Live events allow people to absorb information at their own pace, as Sib pointed out, including leaving, absorbing and returning, rather than in the linear fashion forced by online meetings; face-to-face contact builds far better rapport; it’s easier to grasp what a place looks like through a good exhibition; and you can give people more information without drowning them.
  • Online engagement has the potential to reach far more people from a broader range of the population; as Jenna highlighted, the audience for live planning events at least “skews older, whiter, suburban, more permanent” and with more time on their hands.

Comments on this point very welcome!

Using empathy, caring for people and contacting them just to see how they are is critical to building trust and interest in working with councils – Jamal has great examples – and works via phone at the minimum. Keep this up – or do more of it!

Councils have built a lot of credit amongst people who may not have trusted them in the past, through their stellar crisis response to Covid; this transition time offers a historic opportunity to consider those big questions of how and when residents and other stakeholders are heard.

Invest in personalised support, e.g. offering to relay questions on residents’ behalf if they can’t connect or are shy, or offering a one-to-one to clarify issues after the meeting.

Pace has been an issue that seems to be improving, with a serious early disconnect between Government’s initial push to keep all consultations moving and the trauma so many people were experiencing. Jenna reported that some consultations are now shifting from six to 10 0r 12 weeks, but all agreed there is still too much information being packed into shorter, linear/one-way meetings.

Catch all podcast episodes on the City Bites page.

Get involved in FoL’s Covid-19 response and recovery programme: Learning from Crisis.