Coronavirus has The Netherlands in its clutches, and people are confined to their homes. We switched from working at the office to our personal space in the blink of an eye, and from in-person meetings to Zoom and Skype video calls. For many participation and co-creation projects, the transition has been far less smooth. If resident meetings, street interviews and creative brainstorms are off the table for now, what’s the alternative?

Engaging and keeping all stakeholders engaged – from residents and entrepreneurs to real estate owners and local government – is always complex. But, in the time of corona, engagement is a major challenge. For our projects, we went in search of alternatives, looking further than the existing online participation tools. We were inspired by both ‘old school’ and new applications.

1. Chat with your target group through social media

We can learn a lot from commercial brands that, for years, have communicated with their target groups through social media. Today, chatbots and customer services via WhatsApp are the most natural thing in the world. 256 people can take part in a WhatsApp group app at the same time. Closed Facebook pages are also a long-established and popular platform for sharing information and discussing a specific topic.

2. Podcasts, vodcasts and online broadcasts

The growing popularity of pod- and vodcasts also offers plenty of opportunities for participation. The brand new podcast tool Riverside FM had only been online for barely two weeks when the corona crisis hit The Netherlands. You can use Riverside to record your own podcast with video and audio tracks. Listeners can call in live and pose their questions via video. In the time of corona, the app is an instant success and the start-up is struggling to keep pace with demand.

Starting next week and partnering with VPRO Tegenlicht, debate platform Pakhuis De Zwijger will be fully digital and livecasting. You can join the discussion with Zoom, the video conferencing tool. Participants can ask the guests live questions in Livecast. If you wish, you can use the Mentimeter app and use polls to estimate public opinion. People are also turning en masse to live broadcasts via Instagram and Facebook. Events and activities you previously had to attend live you can now easily follow from home. Activities such as sports classes or university courses, as well as living room concerts, brunches and dinners with live music requested by the participants. 

3. Old school; get in touch by phone

The most extraordinary insight actually came from the social corona initiatives that are popping up everywhere. Such as ‘Koetjes en Kalfjes’. They developed a platform so that students can call older people. Other initiatives link people for 1-on-1 phone or WhatsApp conversations. How easy is it to pick up the phone, make a call, and ask someone what they need? If telephone numbers are not available, open a special telephone number for specific call hours and have a call team ready. Communicate the telephone number via flyers in the letterbox, in the supermarket or in a local newspaper. Once you’ve established that personal contact, it’s much easier to email people or set up a video call.


In short, participation is also possible in the time of corona. We have a range of options at our fingertips. Just think carefully in advance about what you want to achieve and who you want to reach. Video, podcasts or live streaming are all excellent ways to inform people about new plans and ask for input from those who are already involved. But these methods call for a skilled moderator and attractive visuals. If you want to reach people who are unlikely to initiate contact, 1-on-1 communication is the best way to build trust and a good relationship.

We’re curious about your experiences, and would love to know if there’s anything that we may have missed. Get in touch with Rinske.

Photo credits: Maarten Delobel and José Brand


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