COVID-19: In-Person Meetings Impossible? Here’s How to Engage Residents Online

-By Matt Fulton, Vice President of National Engagement-

The COVID-19 public health emergency impacting governments everywhere has effectively stopped all public gatherings.

Coronavirus has caused a sudden halt to the traditional ways residents provide input and opinions on community issues since it is not advisable nor allowable, in some cases, for public gatherings to occur.

Ironically, the need for civic engagement has never been more important. As individuals, families, and businesses try to sustain themselves through this global emergency, it is critical to find a workable engagement solution.

The Need for Public Engagement

Engagement is needed in two ways.

First, residents need to have an effective way to provide input on the personal and economic challenges they are facing. Secondly, local community leaders need to understand how best to focus public resources to help everyone through the next several months.

So, how do residents engage with local government during times when going to a meeting isn’t possible? Online engagement becomes critical in helping to get input from the community and local stakeholders. But traditional approaches can be unorganized and fragmented.

On one hand, communities are utilizing numerous public platforms to keep residents informed with current and updated information about COVID-19. On the other hand, residents rely on their own connections to express concerns, pose questions, and express opinions.

Cutting Through the Noise

It is next to impossible to categorize, prioritize, or fully understand a flurry of online comments coming from multiple social media platforms, especially on such a critically important and sensitive public health topic as Coronavirus.

For local leaders to be able to understand the collective needs and concerns of the community, as well as understand where their focus needs to be, online input needs to be trustworthy and organized in a meaningful and real-time way.

That was why Polco was launched more than five years ago. Polco’s free web-based engagement platform is designed to help communities build a panel of verified residents to provide input on important local issues like COVID-19.

Polco has the unique ability to verify registered voters and append demographic information to this subgroup of respondents. Local officials can be confident they are hearing from their residents down to the precinct level. This becomes very important, particularly with geographically sensitive issues like COVID-19.

Polco organizes input and sentiment, in real time, on dashboards online. This will help you modify your outreach efforts to ensure more participation from your community.


Matt Fulton has served as Polco’s Vice President, National Engagement since the beginning of 2018. Matt’s career includes over 30 years as a City Manager in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Matt has held numerous leadership positions at the local, state, national, and international levels, including as a Midwest Regional Vice President on the ICMA Board of Directors, the Minnesota League of Cities Board of Directors, and a Past President of the Minnesota City/County Management Association. Matt’s management experience has included free-standing and suburban communities ranging in size from 8,000 to 65,000 in population. Civic engagement, regional collaboration, strategic planning, economic redevelopment, and performance management were significant priorities throughout Matt’s career.

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