Essentials of engagement


Media Officer Sarah-Jane Aston is part of our community and stakeholder engagement team. Here she shares three best practices, endorsed by the International Association for Public Participation\ (IAP2).

1. Engagement doesn't have to be scary   

If you are a corporate entity, engaging with communities and asking for genuine opinions can be daunting.
But engagement can also be led by community or special interest groups, and that can make companies very uncomfortable.
Whoever instigates it, building community relationships is vital for any organisation. Advocacy is often the place where policy and legislation are born, and, as the recent marriage equality success clearly demonstrates, can often lead to a greater good.
What does this mean for organisations and governments? Put simple, you shouldn't be afraid to engage with communities. People want to be consulted and they want to participate, so if there is scope for engagement in your project then invite them to contribute as early as you can. 
2. Decision making is fundamental to engagement   

According to IAP2, decision making is at the heart of engagement. Understanding what is and isn’t negotiable is essential before deciding on the level of engagement you will have with stakeholders and community.
There is a useful guide which illustrates the sliding scale of engagement levels. ?).You can view IAP2’s spectrum here. Deciding from the get-go how much input a community can have on a project is vital as this impacts how you will engage.
3. Context and purpose – the mantra of engagement   

You can’t create a project timeline until you understand what you need to achieve. Without a clear and defined purpose, you run the risk of having a good engagement, but an engagement that doesn't quite achieve the outcome you needed.
Part of that will be an understanding of your stakeholders and communities. Before pen hits paper spend some time learning how other similar communities have responded to similar projects.
Know the history of the community. People have long memories and how you approach and engage will always be dependent on their unique contexts.
As long as you commence an engagement process from a point of understanding, backed by research and knowledge, you will be on the path to success. Realise that decision making is a fundamental component of engagement, without it are you even really engaging?

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