How to Host a Successful Open House or Community Information Session
What is the key to running a successful Open House/Community Information Session? What is an Open House/Community Information Session…? If you’re asking these questions - you’ve come to the right place.
An Open House or Community Information Session is a place where members of a community, stakeholders and the general public can learn about a project. We’ll break down 5 essential components of running a “successful” Open House or Community Information Session.
Before we start, you need to define what success means to your Open House or Community Information Session. How do you do this? Simple. Ask yourself: “What am I wanting to achieve from this event?”
Do you want people to take away some knowledge about the project or develop a rapport with community members? Maybe you want to gain some insider knowledge from the community? Success isn’t always based on the number of people who walk through the door or how many comment forms you receive.
Alright. Here we go.
No. 1: When to Use Them…
To raise awareness of a new or ongoing project in the area:
- This can be done at different stages of engagement. To introduce, to update and to present results of studies and what the proponent has decided to move forward with.
To gather information from local stakeholders
- Local stakeholders can often provide some “insider knowledge” about the area they live in that a proponent may not be aware of.
To build a relationship with community members:
- Controversial project? This is a great way to begin the dialogue without it turning into an unnecessary emotional or heated yelling match.
- Straight forward project? Don’t be fooled, nothing is your typical “straight forward project”.
No. 2: How to Set Up a Room…
Logical flow of a room:
- Greeters table, circular arrangement of display boards to keep the flow moving.
- Creating a designated comment area for discussion.
Display Boards need to have all the meaningful information while being properly designed and pleasing to the eye.
Minimal seating – it may sound strange, but this approach actually encourages people to walk through, read all the information from the boards, and ask questions of the staff at the event.
No. 3: Combining Other Engagement Tools…
Information Sheets –These should include key highlights of the project, project map, graphs & charts, contact information for the project, and any other relevant information a stakeholder might want or need to engage with the organization after the event.
Comment Forms – Tailor it specifically to outline what you would like the proponents to know from the Open House or Community Information Session. A comment form should also provide a means for the proponent to get in touch with the individual after the event to address any questions or concerns.
No. 4: Staffing…
Ensuring that the event is well staffed. The biggest complaint from stakeholders at an Open House occurs when there aren’t enough staff members to answer questions.
Staff are knowledgeable on the content that is being shared at an Open House or Community Information Session.
No. 5: Refreshments…
It is human nature to offer a beverage or food to someone we are trying to connect with. Open Houses are no exception. It can be as easy as coffee and cookies. This helps puts your proponents at ease and begins to establish a connection.
More helpful tips:
Timing is everything… Let me say it again – TIMING IS EVERYTHING! Take the time to learn what is happening in the community, when you’re planning an Open House or Community Information Session. You do not want to compete with the local Men’s/Women’s/High School’s or Little League’s - Hockey/Soccer/Dance or Charity Drive.
Have a team debrief once it’s all over. Take 30 minutes to have a quick round table discussion with your colleagues to learn about any issues they may have encountered when talking to people, and if there was something that can be improved on next time.
In short, facilitating a successful Open House or Community Information Session is about establishing positive connections to move a project forward while ensuring stakeholders feel that their voice has value.