Community engagement projects come in all shapes and sizes, as do the methods used by practitioners to engage with their communities. Regardless of the project, or the method used, the common objective is to collect meaningful data that can be analysed and used to make informed decisions.
We all know the benefits of good community engagement. As a vital part of a project’s success, it is important that the methods used to engage are the right fit for the project, the community and the organisation. Using the same method/s for all projects is not necessarily the best way to get the desired outcome, even if the method has experienced past success.
Insanity has been described as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’.
“If past engagement techniques have yielded limited comments, or provided a very one-sided view of the world, it’s time to get innovative and try a new approach.”
There are a plethora of engagement methods and tools available to assist you in your engagement project. But before deciding how you are going to consult with your community, it’s a good idea to consider the following:
1. Who is your community?
The projects that yield the best results are those that have considered who the community are – by undertaking demographic modelling of the community you’re trying to engage with, you will be in a better position to establish what techniques are likely to gain more traction – for example, if the population is dominated by young professionals, public meetings that eat up one’s free time are unlikely to be an attractive prospect, whereas online methods that are easy and quick to use will likely experience greater participation rates.
Furthermore, you will gain an understanding of what motivates your community – are they pro-development, environmentally conscious, have they responded positively to past projects or do they have deep rooted historical connections to a place that may influence their feedback? Sometimes the best laid plans will be unsuccessful because the community have been misunderstood or not adequately understood.
When you know who the community is, you will be better placed to design engagement strategies that are going to work.
2. Have fun
For the average person, commenting on a ‘dull’ strategic plan (as a planner, I disagree that strategic plans are dull, but I am trying to appeal to the masses here!) is not high on their list of priorities. Providing feedback can sometimes require a significant amount of background reading, an understanding of the process and a time commitment that most people don’t have, so they are very unlikely to participate in engagement on a project, let alone on several projects.
However, more members of the community are going to get involved if the engagement is fun, easy and quick. Finding ways to provide relevant information to the community in a way that will not bore them and will actually entice them to provide feedback is vital (and may require some creative thinking). Establishing an engagement program that strikes a balance between being fun and entertaining while maintaining an element of practicality for engagement purposes is encouraged. If it is enjoyable, people will not burn out and you will continue to get the feedback you need.
3. Give options
Rarely is one method of engagement going to work for the entire community – you need to combine methods to ensure that as many people as possible want to get involved. Provide a diverse range of engagement activities, some that require heavy lifting (time commitments) and others that are quick and easy. By giving options, you are more likely to get comments from the time-poor. Regardless of the method, it’s important that it still yields relevant and important information – getting lots of off-topic or irrelevant comments is not a worthwhile exercise. Consider how you will get the best of both worlds!
Learn more about how other organisations manage their community engagement. Download the free information sheet for your industry.