There is no doubt that early engagement results in better outcomes for both the community and government. Starting together to define the purpose and objectives may also save time and resources down the track, as the public’s input at a project’s genesis can reduce the risk of running into problems (including community opposition) later.
For communities, starting together can build a sense of ownership and stewardship. It can help to bring people together for a positive purpose, rather than having them lobby around a negative cause further down the track.
A co-design process that is started together can also create collective action by stakeholders and communities in implementing the solution.
To start together you should be:
- Building relationships
- Working together towards outcomes
Relationships are very important and form the foundation upon which to build successful community engagement. Strong, authentic relationships lead to trust, understanding and openness. Put in the groundwork for good relationships before doing anything else, and start early as this takes time. Relationships may be with internal or external participants. Government relationships are just as important as relationships with external stakeholders. Make sure you identify and build relationships with your internal stakeholders early during the planning phase of your engagement process (Principle 2). They could help shape your engagement process and provide you with expert knowledge and information to assist with your initiative.
Working together towards outcomes
Starting together means working with communities and stakeholders to identify challenges and opportunities, rather than starting from a predetermined outcome or decision.
You need to work with communities and stakeholders to identify the challenges (and opportunities) they are facing. This means taking a blank canvas approach, asking them to identify their concerns and aspirations related to your engagement’s purpose. If you can establish collective or joint objectives with clear actions, all parties can work collaboratively to a positive outcome.
Encourage participation by allowing stakeholders and others to be part of designing the engagement process. This includes asking them how they and others should be engaged and what processes and mechanisms would work best for them.
Probably more so than the other Principles, how Principle 4 is applied or approached differs considerably across the levels of engagement on the IAP2 spectrum.
A key part of your role will be to bring your engagement, communications and policy staff together. Their collaboration and support is important to ensure that activities are well communicated and that those responsible for implementing the final outcomes understand the community’s priorities. This will ensure that starting together can be achieved to a satisfactory level, with greater opportunity for positive outcomes.