Tackling Language Barriers with Online Public Engagement
We are all familiar with the many benefits of online public engagement over offline engagement, such as broader reach, significant cost savings, and environmental advantages. However, its potential for tackling language barriers is less frequently discussed.
Provide support for multiple languages
Online engagement makes it easier and more cost-effective to communicate with people who speak another primary language. Low levels of literacy or language ability can be a key factor that hinders civic participation. People who are not fluent may be hesitant to participate or speak in public during traditional consultations such as town hall meetings. This is especially salient in communities with significant immigrant populations whose perspectives may end up not being represented.
PlaceSpeak is fully developed for bilingual (English and French) consultations, while anticipating the addition of other languages in the future. PlaceSpeak has integrated Google Translate to support translations for all other languages.
However, language barriers are not only limited to people who speak a different language. Many industries have their own set of technical terms and jargon which can pose a challenge even to native speakers.
Reduce barriers to comprehension
Public participation often involves complex and lengthy discussions around policy issues, which may include technical documents that are not often praised for their readability. If not well-written, you can end up confusing your target audience and turn them off from participating.
In general, it is best not to use technical language or jargon where possible. However, where it cannot be avoided, online engagement allows you to include a glossary of key terms that can be quickly accessed via a link or even a simple tooltip. By reducing barriers to comprehension, you’re creating a more seamless experience for citizens who want to voice their opinion, and encourages them to participate again in the future.
Going online also allows organizations to improve and update their web pages and re-upload documents on an ongoing basis as they receive feedback. This demonstrates a high level of responsiveness on the consultation proponent’s part, which in turn shows participants that they are part of an ongoing conversation.
Break down complex ideas using multimedia
With an arsenal of digital media tools at your disposal, you can tackle language barriers using videos, photos, diagrams, podcasts, and more. We’ve previously discussed how social media needs to be a key part of promoting your public consultation, but it’s also a great way of translating complex ideas into easily-digestible nuggets of information. Incorporating multimedia into your consultation provides the opportunity to deliver a clear and engaging message that can appeal to a wide range of demographics and personality types.
Videos and graphics (diagrams, charts, etc.) work incredibly well to break down complex ideas or plans into something simpler and more tangible. Photos provide visual cues, particularly for consultations on land use or new developments.
Also consider using multimedia features in your consultation. For example, PlaceSpeak’s Place It participatory mapping feature allows participants to drop virtual Post-It notes on to a map — an easy-to-understand concept that gets people discussing and engaging without requiring high levels of technical knowledge. For example, the Town of Wolfville asked its residents, “Show us on the map where you think Public Art should be placed. How do you think we should choose locations?”
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To get started with your online public consultation, visit placespeak.com.