Digital Solutions, Infrastructure, Innovation, Virtual Reality

In our increasingly connected world, the communities in which we live, work and service must be at the core of any infrastructure or development project to ensure its success. Receiving community input through public hearings and meetings is a critical step to help guarantee that all stakeholders have an opportunity to share their interests and needs, and that these are heard and considered prior to breaking ground.

Earlier this year, AECOM created and launched an interactive web-based tool called the Virtual Consultation Room, which enables our clients around the world to engage and consult interested stakeholders from their computer or mobile device, simulating the community meeting experience in a virtual environment. In addition to providing a safer environment for participation during the coronavirus pandemic, the Virtual Consultation Room creates a more flexible and inclusive approach to community engagement. This tool allows our clients to reach a wider audience — beyond those who might be able to attend traditional in-person meetings — including those with physical limitations.

In the past six months, our Virtual Consultation Room platform was visited more than one million times. We have had the pleasure of working with top clients across the globe with an outstanding, 100 percent customer satisfaction rating, including from clients such as the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy, Public Health England, the City of San Diego, Highways England, Roche, Georgia Department of Transportation, among others.

“The Virtual Room was simple and fast to deliver. It gave us an easy-to-implement solution to meet challenging and unforeseen circumstances. Yet at the same time there was the opportunity to flex the product so it better suited our needs. A big benefit for us was that it didn’t slow down the timing of the consultation, or our overall project programme. You were able to mobilise the product quickly and efficient in delivery.” – Melissa Williams, Senior Communications Manager, Highways England

Through the new platform, clients can curate a virtual stakeholder engagement event to show consultation materials including virtual reality and sound demonstrations, videos, maps, plans and pop-up banners, just as people would experience at an in-person engagement. There is also a chat function for on-hand experts to remotely answer questions as visitors view the materials, further simulating what would happen at an in-person event. The tool allows for instant feedback, so public comments can be captured and saved for analysis, and to ensure accurate reporting.

“I’m delighted to announce that Roche was the first company in Ireland to use innovative virtual consultation technology to share plans for the decommissioning of its Clarecastle site with the public. The technology, developed by AECOM , enabled us to display a series of information boards about the project in a dynamic virtual room and undertake live chats with the public.” – Gerry Cahill, Roche Managing Director/ Site Head, Ireland

Prior to the global pandemic, digital tools were already featured heavily during AECOM’s in-person community engagement events — including 360-degree Virtual Reality (VR), visualizations, sentiment mapping, sound demonstrations and interactive apps — so the logical next step was to bring them all together into one digital platform.

The adoption of digital tools and processes has differentiated AECOM from its peers in the sector and helped us work faster, smarter and better, and our industry is benefiting from improvements in quality, cost and schedule. As clients and communities start experiencing the benefits — in terms of savings, collaboration, efficiencies, better environmental, social and governance outcomes, and more effective operation and maintenance — we’ll continue to bring to market new digital and innovation offerings that will reshape the infrastructure industry.

“The Virtual Meeting Room developed by AECOM to support Fort Benning’s HOMMTA public notice period provided participants with a platform that delivered the necessary materials and information to effectively conduct our virtual public meeting. This platform enabled Fort Benning to use modern digital capabilities to adapt to the COVID environment.” – U.S Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District

If we are to build a better world for generations to come, we need all members of our society to be active, vocal participants in the process. Virtual public consultation, incorporating VR, is a powerful tool in achieving societal equity and improving our built environment for our communities.

I would like to thank the people who helped bring the Virtual Consultation tool to life and make it a success. Through their hard work and innovative approach to problem solving, Andy Thomas, Xavier Xia and Jamie Lord were able to bring this offering to market quickly and ensure our clients’ work kept moving forward.

Originally published Oct 13, 2020

Author: Kevin Carlson