Emerald Coast Regional Council Embraces Interactive Modernization During COVID
COVID restrictions on public meetings and gatherings have led the Emerald Coast Regional Council (ECRC) to build a creative path to modernization with ways to engage the public. Since late March, all in-person meetings have moved online to GoToMeetings and YouTube Live streaming. With paper maps for public viewing and comment no longer an option, ECRC shifted to an online platform of interactive maps to engage and interact with the public. Challenged with having to update the Okaloosa-Walton Transportation Planning Organization’s Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) with five new projects, ECRC staff knew it was essential to reach the public and get their valuable feedback. A virtual “Open House” was streamed through YouTube Live as staff presented the projects via GoToMeeting and answered questions in real-time via the YouTube chat-box. The key to this virtual outreach was getting the public to look at the new projects and weigh in on the additions. To meet that challenge, ECRC staff developed an interactive mapping application that was used to engage the community and encourage comments and feedback. Built using Esri’s ArcGIS “Public Comment” application, this map allowed the public to view the proposed changes to the LRTP and simply click on a project to “like” it and also enter their comments and contact information for the record. ECRC also developed a similar interactive map to collect input from a regional bicycle/pedestrian working group regarding regional facilities and gaps in regional trail connectivity. For both efforts, more comments were received than would typically be collected at a physical meeting. In these challenging times of pandemic, ECRC was driven to “think outside the box” and find new ways to reach the public and gain their vital input. Finding innovative ways to modernize and expand communication through public engagement is paramount to a successful plan and these new industry tools have opened additional doors to reach those goals.