Why everyday people turn up to solve community problems

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 he was.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. They feel good. Don’t underestimate the importance of people wanting to help.
  3. 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.
  4. They don’t believe governments will get it right. They’re acutely aware that any organisations has limits on their abilities and knowledge.
  5. They DO believe in governments to be 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 do trust in government.

If you’re not getting people to turn up to your community engagement events, then try pulling on these levers to encourage people to do their duty.

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