Community Engagement Definition of the Month: Engagedy

“Engagedy”. Definition: an engagement program that turns out to be a tragedy.

Some community engagement programs are easy to predict. They’re relatively routine.

But others suddenly turn from routine to tragedy.

One minute everything is going according to the gantt chart, the next, you’re on the front page of the paper and an action group is protesting at the gate.

Community engagement is about people. And people are often unpredictable.

However, there are signs you should watch for to avoid an “engagedy”.

Sign 1

You’re seen to be forcing a change on people. People generally do not like it when we force change upon them. When they feel powerless over their lives.

Sign 2

Your frontline people have great technical skills, but lack people skills. The world is full of skilled engineers, architects, scientists and project managers, but how many of them have we trained in how to engage face-to-face with the community?

Sign 3

Tight project deadlines mean you have little or no time to engage. The best you can manage is a 28-day comment period, but even during that comment period you know your project team will be under the pump to finish the design work. If the community suspects your engagement is tokenistic they either won’t participate or they’ll protest.

Sign 4

You’ve already decided everything but you’ve been told by government to engage. It’s simply deceiving to pretend to engage. People who feel deceived are more likely to be outraged.

Sign 5

The people fronting your community engagement have little to no power to make changes. Or they have no contact with the people in power. Sending in polite, well-spoken and nice people to do engagement can be counter-productive and a waste of money. It can raise hopes in a community, then fail to deliver, losing more trust and creating more anger.

IAP2 (International Association of Public Participation) has developed a course in outrage management in public participation. The two-day course incorporates work from Dr Peter Sandman who has developed 12 Outrage Factors that help predict if your project is likely to face community outrage.

For more information on courses contact Articulous.

Articulous is a national communications, engagement and training consultancy operating across Brisbane, Queensland, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.