Students from Ford School, School of Information help communities with COVID-19 challenges

August 13, 2020

Summer Citizen Interaction Design Fellows - students from across the university, including from the Ford School- are paired with civic leaders across Michigan to work on enhancing community engagement. Led by the School of Information, students on nine teams are working this summer on several challenges, many brought about by COVID-19.

One student group is working with the Michigan Township Association to assess those alternatives and to find out how equipped cities and townships were to host virtual meetings for the short run and what place technology might play for public meetings post-COVID-19 restrictions.

The team benefited from having Ford School and School of Information students working together to address this issue. In addition to analyzing the law from a policy perspective and creating a reference guide for the possibility of moving forward with virtual meetings under the act, the students conducted surveys to find out about technological capabilities for compliance.

In their survey, which yielded 283 responses, they found 60% of townships had conducted Zoom meetings or used an audio service to hold a meeting during the pandemic. Not all of the feedback was positive about the remote meeting experience, however, as township leaders reported spotty internet or cell service, noise concerns and general conference issues.

Students also found up to 15% of communities have broadband issues that would need to be addressed before Zoom or a similar service could replace meetings, but they found other lower-tech conference options could be considered.

The team suggests a hybrid in-person and virtual meeting could be possible. Such an offering could help boost community engagement, said Ford School student Lindsey Dowswell.

“The people in the leadership roles in the townships want to engage with the public,” she said. “They do so much work for these meetings and there are important decisions happening, and they’re a little bit discouraged sometimes when the public doesn’t seem to be that involved. So, I think most of them were excited to see additional people showing up (online).”

The full article, which was written by Michigan News, can be seen here.