Virtual Meetings and the Online Imperative of Local Government

Written by Megan Asikainen

Three unexpected benefits of the local government virtual meeting trend.

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If we have learned anything from the COVID-19 crisis, it’s that our communities are not going to halt progress, slow down, or wait for a cure. They are going to keep moving forward and will pivot and persevere no matter the obstacles they face. That’s why they have turned to virtual meetings to maintain momentum and administrative progress while ensuring that board and council members and citizens can all stay safe and socially distanced.

Fortunately, such adjustments are not without unexpected benefits. What began as a temporary stop-gap measure to ensure administrative efficiency is turning into a preferred way for citizens to view online meetings and an opportunity to grow citizen engagement. Virtual meetings offer three unanticipated opportunities for citizen community-building and civic satisfaction, proving to local governments that they should continue offering virtual opportunities long after we no longer need to social distance. This revelation makes virtual meetings, yet another standard way of life in a world forever changed by a pandemic.

1. Greater Community Issue Awareness

The average American family, in many ways, is restricted by the one commodity that we never have enough of—time. Between work, parenting responsibilities, hobbies, and day-to-day responsibilities, many citizens, even those who care greatly about their community and want to have a voice in its progress, cannot prioritize attending every public meeting in person. This reality is especially true when their choices on a Wednesday evening are to attend a public meeting across town or spend the time grocery shopping, watching their child’s soccer game, going to the gym, or working late at the office.

However, virtual meetings remove the barrier of time conflicts and open opportunities for citizens to virtually view live sessions from the comfort of home or watch recorded sessions to become informed on topics of public interest. By allowing citizens to watch virtual meeting proceedings, more citizens can become informed on the topics and projects impacting their community.

2. Increased Diversity of Engagement

Given the mentioned constraints many citizens face in finding the time and opportunity to attend meetings in person, those who prioritize attendance are likely to be of strongly opinionated mindsets and extremely passionate about certain aspects of civic management. Opening up meetings to virtual attendees allows administrations to broaden their attendance to citizens who are not necessarily championing a specific agenda or platform, but rather, want to become more educated and informed voters.

A note on accessibility. To ensure that you are equally allowing for greater access across demographics, including ages, races, abilities, and socioeconomic strata, ensure that your virtual meeting technology is free, easily accessible and navigable, consumable by assistive technology, and available for live and recorded closed captioning. To ensure that the digital divide does not become a barrier to viewership in a culture predicated on online access, many communities are prioritizing investments in broadband infrastructure. Federal funding, such as grant funds from the CARES Act, is helping communities make investments in new technology to address the new expectations of engagement in response to COVID-19.

3. Reducing the Carbon Footprint

The drastic reduction in daily work commuting has offered tremendous benefits for our environment. Experts predict that as a result of COVID-19 and our rapid and dramatic reduction of air, train, and car travel, that we’re set to witness the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions. For communities attempting to prioritize the greenification of their shared natural environment, citizens can feel positive knowing that they are taking another small step to reduce their carbon footprint without sacrificing the impact they can have as an engaged member of their community.

Now that your citizens have experienced the convenience of on-demand, anytime, anywhere access, they won’t accept having such benefits rescinded. Virtual meetings may have become established in local governments’ standards of engagement delivery because of COVID-19, but they have found their place in the future of everyday civic engagement.

At CivicClerk®, we designed the Live Meeting Manager module within our agenda and meeting management software to address the most significant needs clerks face in live meetings. Now, you can focus on critical discussions and local decision-making, not on meeting logistics. Learn more.