Every day and in every industry we are continually adding ideas or processes. But so often we forget to delete.
When we review or audit community and stakeholder engagement within organisations, we see how passionate our engagement colleagues are. Their passion for engagement means we’re adding innovations and improvements every day.
But what should we be deleting from our engagement practice?
- Outdated processes – legislation is being updated every year in different sectors and states. If your engagement policy or framework was completed more than 5 years ago, it may need updating. Since then, we’ve seen new legislation, policies and standards introduced at the national level, as well as the state level in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
- Newspaper notices – unless it’s required by legacy legislation, a newspaper notice is simply not enough to attract community attention. Very few people read newspapers and even fewer read the notices section.
- Burn out of great professionals – at the IAP2’s last engagement conference, I was moved to tears by tales of great engagement professionals who felt burnt out and traumatised by having to work with daily angry, aggressive or bullying behaviours. We need to make sure our colleagues are supported and encouraged on those tough projects.
- Jargon – yes, even engagement people can over-use jargon. So if you find you’re spending too much time talking about scope, deliberative, collaborative partnerships, levels of engagement, the DPM, honeycomb profiles and more … then stop and translate to your project teams.
- Engaging solely on problems – if you’re only engaging when things are contentious or there’s a risk, then you need to stop. We could spend an entire blog talking about this, but in essence it causes (a) a failure to engage on topics that the whole community wants to engage on (b) an engagement capacity gap – where we unintentionally build the skills of those who always turn up, and diminish the engagement skills of those who don’t (c) we don’t ask the right questions of community (d) our innovation is focused on problems rather than opportunity (e) it can create a false sense of what community really thinks
If you’d like to keep up with the latest in engagement strategies, why not enrol in the Strategies for Complex Engagement course.
His hand was shaking, his face was red, and he could no longer contain the rage that was consuming him.
I had been brought in after 12 months of my client saying nothing to the community. And in the absence of information, there was rage. So how do you get from enraged to engaged? It requires, and not necessarily always in this order:
- A willingness to admit past mistakes. This is the first step in moving forward.
- The ability to cop the anger. Sometimes people need to vent. Sometimes, like my man in his 70s, they have a right to feel angry. And as engagement professionals, we need to provide that space.
- Understanding what people are really upset about it. Are they really upset about traffic and dust, or are they really angry because of a past event. It could be as simple as a letter that your organization has sent. It could be that you’ve failed to deliver on promises. Or it could be you are talking about things that are important to you, like jobs, rather than the things that are important to them, like the legacy of their land for future generations.
- Time. People need time to get through the anger so they can sit down and talk.
- Getting to the masses. On a recent project, it was obvious that the community outrage was in fact outrage from a very small number of people, who were also enraging other members of the community. If you’re going to do community engagement properly, you have a responsibility to involve more than just the loudest voices.
- Deciding what you’re willing to negotiate on. Tell the public specifically what you want their input on. A telltale sign of poor engagement is to simply ask for feedback under the banner “have your say” without any indication of the negotiables and non-negotiables.
- And finally, a willingness to embrace anger. Accept that where there’s anger, there’s passion. And when there’s passion you can get interest and involvement.
For some of us, that might require a mental shift. But it’s a mental shift that means you won’t resent the man in his 70s. You’ll understand. You won’t get angry yourself. And you’ll be more likely to find a way forward.
Amanda Newbery is a licensed trainer for IAP2’s Emotion and Outrage in Public Participation Course.