We know the history

‘We told you lot all of this when you were here six months ago’, the farmer complained loudly to murmurs of agreement from around the hall.

Engaging communities and stakeholders too much, or failing to build on previous engagement activities, can be as bad as not engaging at all. We often hear high-profile examples of communities and stakeholders complaining of not being engaged, but in reality there’s a lot of engagement going on and it’s important to be aware of this.

Nothing seems to rile people more than being asked for input time and time again, yet not being able to see the impact of their previous contributions.

Knowing the history involves:

  • Determining what we already know
  • Researching background information

Determining what we already know

Knowledge of previous government involvement in a community or with stakeholders is vital. This should include knowledge of activity by all tiers of government (often people do not distinguish between the three) and by all government agencies (remembering that their names often change and this can be confusing for the community).

Research can often reveal that a lot of engagement activity is occurring but in an uncoordinated manner. This can contribute to consultation fatigue – where communities are over consulted. This is compounded when their previous feedback has not been included in previous decisions or has not influenced subsequent engagements in the same region on similar topics. Corporate knowledge of previous engagements can be hard to obtain. To help, look for significant government projects undertaken in the recent past which may have spurred engagement, to identify practitioners who have worked in the community and have existing knowledge. You may also find reports and outcomes based on those engagements. Use these to influence your own work.

Researching background information

Other ways to find out the history about the issue you are engaging on include:

  • Accessing the YourSAy website – there is a lot of information from previous government engagements archived there – www.yoursay.sa.gov.au.
  • Connecting to other agencies - talk to your peers as well as the communication teams. These people will be a good source of corporate knowledge.
  • Reading the outcomes from the Country Cabinet events – these provide a great overview of what’s happening in regions, the issues raised by communities and the Government’s response.
  • Access the State Government Archives – they are an excellent resource available to anyone in government.
  • Talk to consultants that run engagement processes for government – they can often provide you with a new perspective of what happened in a project they may have worked on.

When undertaking an engagement, it’s worthwhile to specifically refer to any previous engagement activities in the community, explaining their outcomes, how they intersect with the current process, and why a new process is required. Where possible, build on the outcomes of previous engagements.