Deep in the Heart of Texas: Responding to the pandemic

In January, Raftelis began a project with a Texas utility to develop new stormwater fees. Our plan featured extensive stakeholder engagement including six group meetings planned between March and June 2020. Within weeks of the first meeting, stay-at-home orders went into effect, but the utility’s desire to engage stakeholders was unchanged. Raftelis adjusted quickly, developing an online meeting engagement strategy based on best practices for remote group engagement.

The second stakeholder meeting was hosted online. While it went smoothly, the participants requested greater flexibility and opportunities for discussion for future meetings. Raftelis made more adjustments; updating the online meeting approach with additional engagement strategies.

Meanwhile, the stakeholders, like the staff and consultant team, were wrestling with the day-to-day realities of the pandemic. There were economic consequences of the shutdowns and fears were expressed to the team. Raftelis’ updated online engagement approach, used for the group’s third meeting, featured a time period for stakeholders to share their experiences. In addition, the third meeting took the form of a series of identical breakout sessions, which allowed for smaller group discussions and freer exchange of information and questions during the presentations. In addition to being surveyed about their views on the meeting content, Raftelis included questions to ascertain their comfort level with participating in future in-person meetings.

With the re-opening of the state, and comfort levels of many stakeholders sufficient to gather in-person, Raftelis is again adapting the approach. Future meetings will feature both online and in-person formats, with social distancing in place for in-person participants. Accommodating varying modes of participation will be a strategy that is part of most engagement efforts for the near future.

To learn more, see how we helped the Town of Nantucket and the Town of Jackson with their public engagement, view our insight on re-imaging engagement, or explore how Raftelis can help you with public engagement.