Is it possible to have an engagement that may not be engaging? Yes.
There are plenty of examples of engagement activities which fail to inspire, demonstrated by low participation rates, low-quality responses and a lack of goodwill at future engagements.
Our final Principle looks to the engagement activities themselves, the things you want people to take part in: the online discussion forum; the workshop; the Facebook page; the survey; the list goes on.
To be relevant and engaging you should:
- Shape your engagement tools for your participants
- Be creative
Shape your engagement tools for your participants
As you work through the Principles, you’ll begin to understand what makes your communities and stakeholders tick. The better you know your communities and stakeholders, the greater your ability to shape engagement tools that will draw them into the process. As previously outlined (Principle 5), a successful engagement places people, not the topic or government, at the centre of the engagement, because it’s the people who’ll be affected.
In practical terms, putting people at the centre of the process means making sure that your process is as accessible and interesting as possible to the people and communities you want and need to engage. The following is a list of some of the things that need to be considered to make your engagement process inclusive:
- Breadth of opportunity to participate
- Comfort and access
- Disability access
- Tools that are engaging and welcoming
- Cultural considerations
- Age and learning styles
- Literacy and numeracy levels of your audience
More information about how to address these considerations and make your engagement process inclusive is available on the Better Together website.
To make sure your engagement methodologies capture the community’s imagination and draw people into the process, you need to take it beyond mere bureaucratic tools. You need to think about personalisation, using creativity and relevance to make them as fun and as engaging as possible.
Engagement activities which stand out as highly successful are those which captivate their audiences and give them a clear purpose for being there. Sometimes that will mean fun and games, prizes, the use of multimedia and enthusiastic facilitation.
In his book 'Making Democracy Fun: How Game Design Can Empower Citizens and Transform Politics' 5 Josh Lerner provides a number of case studies of ‘fun’ engagements.
On other occasions, and for different audiences, it may mean carefully constructed discussion papers, presentation of data and use of detailed case studies, but make these as creative and relevant as possible for your participants.
'What’s in it for me?', If your participants gain something from your engagement, then you’ve made it relevant for them. And this isn’t about having their say in lofty policy goals. Instead, it’s about immediate value, e.g. the parent who has some time out during a community conversation because a crèche is provided; the elderly woman who gets to enjoy the company of others when being interviewed over a cup of tea; or the food and sense of community enjoyed during a suburban barbecue.
- Josh Lerner (2014), Making Democracy Fun: How Game Design Can Empower Citizens and Transform Politics