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  • Writer's pictureJessica Wernli

Community buy-in during COVID19: 5 virtual strategies public leaders can use to get critical insight

Community voice and buy-in is still important, if not more so, during a crisis. Confronted with countless problems to solve and time-sensitive decisions to make, even the most well-intentioned public and institutional leaders power through without taking time to check-in with their constituents. But community members know better than anyone how actions that are taken today will impact them and their families tomorrow. Their valuable insight is needed.

Much of my work over the past decade has centered around bridging the gap between decision-makers and community members, and using collective visioning and action to transform neighborhoods, cities and regions. To practice meaningful listening and engagement, I typically combine the best of in-person and virtual strategies. However, during a time when face-to-face isn’t an option, we need to maximize the use of our virtual tools.

All of the leadership teams that I’ve been consulting with have had to move quickly to address challenges and determine the best direction to take since things started shutting down. And all of them have groups that they are accountable to and need buy-in from. I have helped them discover that with a little creativity, virtual options don’t have to limit their engagement. There are a variety of ways to quickly and virtually get the feedback needed to avoid flopping at a time when effective leadership and decision-making is paramount.

Employing one or more of these strategies can help you gain critical insight so you can move with clarity and confidence while increasing chances of success – even during a global pandemic.

1. Phone Banking

It may sound basic, but what better way to connect to people individually when you can’t meet face-to-face? Phone banking may be the closest thing to door-to-door canvassing. You can even take a fun and coordinated approach similar to a canvassing event. Identify callers to participate in a phone-a-thon to check in on community members and get their perspective about pressing issues.

People will be appreciative to hear from a public leader and their team members seeking their opinion and insight rather than asking for money or an endorsement.

2. Virtual Focus Groups

Getting input and sourcing ideas in small groups can be a great way to get community buy-in.

This is a great occasion to utilize video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts. A virtual focus group of 5-15 people can make way for a rich and insightful conversation. Since zoom and other platforms allow breakout rooms, multiple focus groups could be facilitated simultaneously.

A bonus is that meetings can be recorded and saved, which allows you to fully capture what was shared.

3. Virtual Town Halls

A Virtual Town Hall can be held using social media or video conferencing. Each of these options will allow you to save the recording.

Information and question prompts can be delivered on YouTube, FB or IG Live, while participants respond through comments. To create an engaging dialogue, the person on camera can respond to what’s being shared in the comments as they are posted. Another person could be designated to further interact with participants by liking and responding directly to posts.

On most video conferencing platforms, you can make use of the chat box, video, and live polling to capture feedback. Questions that require short answers can be typed in the chat box and participants can be called on and unmuted to provide longer responses. Live polling helps to provide quick data points. Note that the chat box can also be downloaded and saved for future reference.

And for added fun, you can combine these two methods to get wider audience interaction by posting your live zoom meeting to Facebook or YouTube.

Tip: Designate roles to more easily manage technology and participant engagement. For example, have one person handle logistics (muting and unmuting participants, sharing screens, etc.), another track the comments and a third person serve as the main speaker engaging with participants.

And remember to always test the technology ahead of time to ensure a smooth delivery!

4. Online Surveying

Surveys are a familiar tool for community feedback. While surveys aren’t always the most exciting form of engagement, a lot of folks have more time on their hands right now and might be more willing to respond. And, employing surveys in conjunction with one of the other methods in this list would make them especially valuable.

A survey link can be shared via text, email or social media. Share the link alongside interesting graphics, include average length of time for completion (the shorter the better) and make the title relevant and timely to increase response rates.

5. Social Media

Social media offers a variety of options for community buy-in. A post on your social media platform(s) introducing the reason you are seeking feedback along with your question prompt is easy to do and can be shared widely. Adding video or graphics to your post will make it even more engaging.

There are several ways to gather responses. You could ask people to respond by commenting directly to the post or ask them to respond in a separate post using a specified hashtag. For example, an education administrator wanting to know how to support teachers might post the following on the school district’s social media pages:

“As a teacher, what is your biggest hurdle in engaging students during COVID19? Post a short video of your experience using #TeachingDuringAPandemic.”

You can also get feedback by posting a poll to your social media platforms. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat all have polling features. Links to these polls can be shared via text and email too. With social media, audience reach is unlimited, and you can get creative with your engagement.

With all of these tools at our disposal, leaders can continue to seek community buy-in during this critical time. Checking in with community members will not only allow leaders faced with big decisions to source creative ideas for a time when we need to think outside of the box, but will increase shared ownership and success. Leaders who want to be known for their ability to make the right decisions and solve problems during this crisis need to make sure they are not overlooking the power of community buy-in.

Do you need help creating a strategy for community buy-in? Connect with me via LinkedIn or email me at

54 views2 comments

2 comentários

Joy Harper
15 de abr. de 2020

Great ideas! Love it


15 de abr. de 2020

Thank you Jessica, you are always a voice of reason and a call to action!

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