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New IWR Report on Best Practices for Virtual Engagement

Institute for Water Resources
Published Dec. 11, 2023
These are graphics from the Best Practices for Virtual Engagement document

These are graphics from the Best Practices for Virtual Engagement document

(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) In response to the expanded use of remote employees and telework, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Institute for Water Resources (IWR) recently prepared and released the publication Best Practices for Virtual Engagement.

While many workers since 2019 have lived through a rapid shift to virtual work, the process of applying best practices and “balance” in approaches continues to evolve. IWR’s Best Practices for Virtual Engagement provides a primer and ready reference in the search for the “best” work environment. The document is tailored for USACE employees but is also broadly applicable to any entity designing and executing public participation activities.

The report serves as a practical guide for USACE planners addressing:

  • The foundations of any successful engagement
  • How to determine the right type of engagement for your situation
  • Best practices when planning a virtual engagement strategy
  • Reaching socially vulnerable populations and planning for those with disabilities
  • Common collaborative technology tools and features; and
  • Case study examples of selected strategies for virtual and hybrid engagement.

Building trust through effective engagement

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a diverse set of missions which necessitate active collaboration and participation across various agencies, stakeholders, Tribal Nations and the public.

Effective engagement of these groups is crucial to large civil works projects and is a staple for those who plan and manage the overarching programs at USACE. The Best Practices guide aims to help any USACE employee tasked with planning an engagement choose and execute the most suitable style of event for their specific situation, be it virtual, in-person, or a hybrid combination of both.


Trust forms the core of effective engagement, and the report recommends incorporating the following characteristics in engagements:

  • Customization: understand your audience first. What is important to them? What are their concerns?
  • Transparency: communicate openly.
  • Interaction and engagement: recognize the value that others bring to the table and design activities to enable meaningful contributions.
  • Timeliness: share information and solicit input at appropriate times.
  • Thoughtfulness: the engagement is well thought out.
  • Accessibility: where and how does your audience get information? What are their limitations (technological or physical)?
  • Inclusivity: is everyone at the table who should be?

Tailoring strategies for unique projects

Recognizing that every project or study is unique and will have its own set of requirements, the report advises planners to think about what needs to be accomplished during a meeting and combine that with an appropriate outreach strategy. This involves thinking about who should be at the table, what information should be provided to the audience, and what level or type of input you would like to receive from the audience—before determining your outreach strategy.

Each type of engagement (virtual, in-person, or hybrid) presents a mix of advantages and challenges. The report underscores the importance of tailoring strategies to the specific goals and conditions of each engagement, while also taking into account the evolving nature of conditions and technology.

While the Best Practices guide focuses primarily on virtual engagement, it emphasizes that many of the principles and suggestions hold true across engagement types. “Best Practices" serves as a practical guide to help planners choose the optimal engagement strategy for a project, incorporating best practices and insights derived from the experiences of engagement specialists. The report also emphasizes the need to pay special attention to accessibility and inclusivity when crafting a virtual engagement strategy.


Throughout the report, case studies highlight first-hand experiences of engagement specialists, showcasing creative and resourceful approaches to successful virtual engagements. For those planning future engagements, this report can serve as a valuable resource to learn from.


The report is available for free download from the IWR Library.

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