We have witnessed the seemingly overnight transformations as our day-to-day lives have moved online. From how we work, shop for groceries, and connect with friends and family, there has been a rapid adaptation of online platforms to facilitate communication, engagement and other daily activities.

There is no doubt that this digital evolution was already underway, however faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, it shifted into overdrive. In some way the pandemic has slowed things down, but the digital evolution that was 5 to 10 years off has arrived at our doorsteps in a matter of weeks. Thanks to ever-changing online technologies the world quickly moved to an almost completely digital life. Over the past weeks, we have seen staggering numbers of individuals adjusting the way they live their lives.

If communities and organizations didn’t already understand the need to have an online presence, they have abruptly been faced with the reality of having to operate, at least partially, online to remain relevant and productive. 

As increasing numbers of services and products become available online, the consumers and clients (patients, etc) they serve learn to incorporate this new way of doing business into their lives. We can expect a post COVID-19 world to retain many of the online options that are being created right now.  

Companies that are already familiar with the challenges of navigating the new normal and have pivoted online, must remain relevant and responsive as new online habits and digital expectations appear. Online patience runs thin! People want to find what they are looking for, fast and easily. Accessibility is key. Companies that can continually be agile and responsive will no doubt thrive, while those who struggle with change may become irrelevant.

People are finding digital solutions for being able to connect

Daily app sessions for popular remote work apps

App popularity according to iOS App Store rankings on March 16-18. · Source: Apptopia

What does this mean for the  planning and development community? 

For development projects, the most public interaction happens during the public engagement period associated with the approvals process and during the sales period. Most development companies have robust infrastructure to allow for sales to take place at a distance with many marketing overseas. Public engagement however, has traditionally been in-person, with municipalities anxious to ensure the process allows for equal access across demographics. 

Today, it is essential that municipalities and project teams take engagement online. A recent Talk Vancouver survey revealed that the majority of participants would prefer to engage online when it comes to neighbourhood planning initiatives as well as individual development applications. People expect to access information online as easily, or easier than they would be able to acquire it through print or in-person. This means your platform must   deliver information with the digital user in mind. It must  be accessible through mobile and browser, it must be visually appealing and it must be organized in a way that the end user expects. 

With a few online engagement initiatives under our belt, what have we found? 

Online participation has included community members who we would not expect to attend traditional, in-person events, including young families, people who don’t have a nine to five workday, individuals with a disability, and people under 30. Through our online platform we are able to cater to those who have availability limitations, have transportation barriers, and most importantly right now, those who are concerned about their health and safety. Being available digitally, is breaking down barriers for many  people. While we don’t expect in-person and traditional methods of connecting with communities and individuals to go away, we do expect that digital engagement will be an essential component of our process in the future. 

If you want to see projects that we are taking digital, you can view them here. 

For a great read on how digital advancements are shaping the future, we recommend The Fourth Industrial Revolution” book by Klaus Schwab.