Even when Engagement looks like it Failed it can Teach you a lot.

I was out on the road conducting engagement sessions for a client recently, which is not a particularly unique occurrence. However this one particular session did not exactly erupt with enthusiasm from the local community when only four community members showed up over a three-hour period.

So what does this mean? Did the engagement fail? Or is the project so popular with the community that they felt no need to show up? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.

In this particular case, the broad community engagement is playing out largely as anticipated and that is – the broader community has some small interest in the issue and a limited number of individuals have a very high level of interest. This hypothesis was first raised in a series of focus groups at the beginning of the program and is now seemingly being supported by the broader community sessions. As this is project is remarkably significant for the region however, the focus groups were not sufficient to support this theory and broader community sessions were required to prove this further beyond doubt.

So, even if nobody is showing up to your community sessions this can tell you a lot. It can tell you that:

  • You need to go back to your stakeholders to determine if your method was right
  • Did you do enough promotion?
  • Is the location right?
  • Are people genuinely okay with your proposal?
  • Is this issue/opportunity not of interest?

A small turnout can tell you a lot, but you need to take it as an opportunity to ask more probing questions and not just assume that it means that the opportunity has closed.

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