Using a case study approach to explain some lessons I have learnt about good engagement. The scenario is fictious but believable.
A district council is consulting on a set of future development proposals. Exhibitions at parish council offices and village halls have been arranged, public events have been advertised in the local paper, libraries, council’s website and notification letters sent to parish council clerks and stakeholders who have previously declared an interest in future development.
Turnout at the drop-in sessions and exhibitions was low, bookings for three evening workshops were also poor; online consultation responses have been steady but not as high as other consultations.
WHAT ARE THE ENGAGEMENT OPTIONS?
In a previous role I used the World Café system. By targeting the audience during the marketing stage I was able to ensure that I had a decent footfall at the event. The event itself was set up as an informal space with notice boards to collect post-it notes of the communities ideas. In advance of the event I utilised the social media channels more – regular messages outlining the date, time and venue; posters pushed online with information about what the event would achieve for the community; I took part in popular online conversations and talked about the upcoming event which then spread across their networks. I still advertised the event with the parish council and libraries but I didn’t bother with the local newspaper or council website. The workshops were well attended and the community proactively participated.
Here is where I failed though – I didn’t go back to the same channels I had marketed with to feedback after the event. Those that didn’t come to the workshop didn’t know how successful it was, didn’t understand how decisions had been reached and therefore were harder to convince as to why a service was changing. They felt they had not been heard because they hadn’t been there in person. They felt left in the dark about decisions being made on their behalf.
HOW CAN WE BE BETTER?
It is important to remember that as much as you want the public to participate in your event, the public want to know what happened. If you advertise in certain places to target an audience then make sure you feedback the outcome after the event in the same places. This builds trust and understanding (if decisions are made that will impact their lives).
I believe the World Café approach works, but what else does?
What advice can you give others who are trying to better engage communities in democratic matters?
What else works to encourage positive participation at organised events instead of ‘ticking the consultation boxes’ of advertising that leaves the room empty?