Public Engagement (Pop-up meetings and how to implement them)
We asked Robin Joseph-Williams to share her expertise for this article. Robin is a planner and one of the principal public engagement professionals at PIA. She most recently conducted a series of pop-up meetings for the Texas Trees Foundation, a client of JWG (Joseph Williams Group).
Pop-up meetings are an innovative way to get your message to the exact audience you are trying to reach. They help you share your project with your target audience where they live, work, walk by, gather, or play. Robin Joseph-Williams, planner and public engagement expert at PIA, has been using pop-up meetings for years. Pop-ups add the most value when the project would benefit from community input and the client wants a two-way exchange of information.
Many clients are getting more innovative and conducting open-house style meetings, where the project team members spend time conversing face-to-face with engaged community members rather than making a presentation to a group audience.
Pop-up meetings take the open house meeting one step further. A pop-up meeting feels impromptu and gives team members a chance to interact with an audience that might not have known about or had time to attend a formal meeting. Pop-ups were inspired by the trends of pop-up restaurants, shops, meet-ups, and car shows.
The decision to use pop-up meetings depends on the project scale and the level of involvement or engagement desired. Involvement is not the same thing as engagement. What works for one client’s project goals might not work for another. Pop-ups work best on projects where the client wants the public to be more involved in the decision-making process.
Top 3 Benefits of Pop-up Meetings:
Pop-ups allow you to reach a broad cross-section of the community. Your project mailings may only inform the adjacent property owners, but in reality, there are others who may be impacted by a project, and pop-up meetings are one way to reach them. Pop-ups allow you to reach people who do not have access to or time to visit the Internet. They may be too busy to attend public meetings but still interested in what’s going on. The “meet them where they are” approach may reach community members who are underrepresented or disenfranchised, like the homeless, transit-dependent, workers, and visitors.
Pop-ups allow flexibility. With multiple avenues to receive the community’s feedback, they can participate in the moment or later, at their convenience, using materials and links you provide.
Pop-ups are easily replicated. Once you have your meeting materials created, you can use them for multiple dates and sites to reach more people affected or impacted by the project.
How to Publicize Your Pop-up Meeting
Pop-up meetings may be publicized by email, social media influencers, word of mouth, and neighborhood, church, and social groups. If you hold a pop-up meeting at an event that has been advertised, traffic is virtually guaranteed.
What Goes in Your Pop-up Meeting Toolkit?
Pop-up meetings may seem to be impromptu but require planning. A pop-up meeting is like a mini-trade show, marketing a project instead of a product. Some items you might want to include in your pop-up toolkit are:
Map or project board
Flyers with information links to website/surveys
Giveaways (food, goodie bags, or trinkets)
Sign-in sheet (you can add participants to your project’s stakeholder list)
Tablets or laptops to take online surveys on the spot
Where to Have a Pop-up Meeting
When determining where to hold a pop-up meeting, think about where your audience gathers, works, plays, or passes by. Find local events you could join. Locales to consider are concerts, parks, events, festivals, libraries, restaurants, wherever the people are. Keep in mind that you will need permission from property owners or event operators to set up at a business or event.
Pop-up meetings are an innovative way to make meetings more accessible to your audience. As with any meeting, your measures of success will include the number of participants involved or engaged. You may measure them via survey responses, website hits, sign-in sheets, or comments.
You may also enjoy reading about the work of Candy Chang, an architect/artist who uses artistic installations to engage the community.
Photo of courtesy JWG & MIG for the Texas Tree Foundation Harry Hines Streetscape Project