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Make good engagement your habit

1 February 2019

By Catherine Greig, Director, make:good

There’s definitely been a turning point in the last couple of years where engagement has become a more mainstream thing that both clients and the public have come to expect. Gone are the days when I often found myself having to justify the value of involving people in decisions that impact them! Of course, we think it’s wonderful that engagement is coming to the fore and only hope this positive trend continues.

With this in mind, we’re thinking about the engagement habits that underpin our work, which we hope to see applied more widely in the industry

1. Know where the influence is

Before we start any project we need to know that there is room for meaningful influence. We need to be clear on what this is, setting out exactly what’s up for discussion, what’s not and why. The no-go areas are normally enshrined in policy rather than a particularly autocratic client, but there is huge value in being honest and transparent about what decisions are open to discussion, right from the get-go.

2. Know your audience:

In order for engagement activities to be – well, engaging – they need to be tailored and specific to the audience. To do this, you need to get to know them well and pitch the right type of activities. We once ran an amazing dog show to engage people on one of our projects, but this would’ve been completely inappropriate and potentially offensive in other contexts.

3. Find out how to reach people

If only there was one magic solution for how to reach people, but we know this doesn’t exist. The text message we don’t look at, the email that goes straight to the trash, the flyer that goes in the bin (the optimist in me wants to think the recycling bin), the person standing in the street with a clipboard that you rush past because you just don’t have the time. It’s so important to understand how people in a particular area find out about stuff, or how you can cover as many bases as possible. Who are the people with the networks that can reach a wide audience and how can we tap into them? No two projects are ever the same but you need to identify the best channels to use for the context.

4. Agree a clear feedback loop

We get asked surprisingly regularly what we are going to do with feedback and if the work we are doing is part of a genuine process. There are always cynics but the paradigm of public agency does not seem to have caught up with the increase in demand for engagement work. We tackle this by creating a cyclical process that is quite simply: collect insight, process insight, share findings, gather feedback on findings, repeat and refine.

5. Be playful & curious

This is a core part of what we do. How do you get people to engage who don’t want to get involved in things because, in the main, they don’t believe they have any influence? How do you set the tone for conversations? Well for us this is about creating beautiful props and tools for engaging people, making them curious to draw people in and, where appropriate, playful so that they make people smile and get them talking. Most of the stuff we do is about bringing our own interests into work to spark a connection and this keeps us delivering work that feels authentic to us.

6. Be rigorous

Something that wraps all of these together is rigour. I am always fascinated when clients seem surprised at how rigorous we are because they expect us to be focused on the fun side of engagement. We love fun, curiosity, giving people a treat so that engaging with us feels valuable in its own right, but this has to be backed up with really rigorous data capture. Who are we reaching and are they representative of an area? What feedback are we gathering and how can we code it so that we can be sure the conclusions we are drawing are evidence-based and not based on our perceptions? This is the behind-the-scenes stuff we do that really delivers the community influence we aspire to.

So now over to you; what are your best engagement habits and how do you work to embed them in every project? Tell us on Twitter!