Why everyday people turn up to community engagement activities

Why do everyday people turn up to community engagement activities? Here’s what we learned recently.

It was a Saturday morning. The first day in a four-month process for members of a citizen engagement process to tackle a very tricky issue.

“What would you be doing if you weren’t here today?”

“I’d be at the hospital to see my mother. She’s sick and she’ll be in for a while. I’m not sure I should be here.”

But this good son was there.

So, why do everyday people turn up to community engagement activities?

Depending on the topic, it can elicit intense emotions. People disagree. People have lives with other priorities. They’re busy.

There are many reasons why people turn up.

But here are the most profound:

They believe it’s their duty in a democracy.

More and more, people reject the idea that turning out to vote is democracy. Increasingly they believe in participatory democracy even if they’ve never said it out loud. Community engagement activities allow them to feel and be heard.

They feel good.

Don’t underestimate the importance of people wanting to help identify and solve problems in their community.

They believe they have the skills and the knowledge you need.

Life experience, study and work all contribute to building people’s capacity to solve problems.

They don’t believe governments will get it right.

They’re acutely aware that any organisation has limits on its abilities and knowledge. Community engagement activities can help to build the right solutions.

They DO believe governments are able to make genuine and transformative change.

Not everyone distrusts government.

Think about every poll that tells us trust in authority organisations is falling. Now flip it on its head. Focus on that very large population that does trust in government.

The lesson?

If you’re not getting people to turn up to your community engagement activities, then try pulling on these levers to encourage people to do their duty. Use them in your communications and see if you get the participation you need.

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