The importance of using active engagement and follow-up techniques to ensure your engagement is not tokenistic.
For the last four years, we’ve researched, tested and shared ideas to improve engagement in the voluntary sector and in marginalised communities. We’ve seen that giving people a greater influence in the decisions that affect them improves service development, increases social inclusion, builds the confidence of participants, and creates more active and involved communities. But all too often, passive approaches to engagement – like fact sheets, surveys and public meetings – are simply about informing or consulting people, rather than giving them a genuine say in decision making.
We found that active engagement techniques are necessary to ensure engagement moves beyond consultation, to genuine empowerment.
Does your organisation encourage more participatory approaches to engagement? Are senior managers open to new and innovative approaches? Are they willing to allocate capacity and funding? If not, you need to argue the business case: engaging communities and service users in the right way leads to better business decisions and improved services. It costs money in the short run but saves more over time.
Is your organisation really listening or is engagement tokenistic? Is there evidence that your organisation has really tried to reach out and hear the views of service users and communities?
Can people see that you have listened to and acted on their views? All too often people don’t engage because either no one has asked them or they think it won’t make any difference.
Barriers to participation include:
A lack of resources
A lack of confidence in those responsible for engagement
A lack of training for engagement practitioners, community groups and people who need support to have a voice
A lack of accessibility – both in terms of venues and ways of connecting with people – not everyone is digitally connected, can read, hear or see.
Staff need to be supported and trained to use a variety of different approaches – different people like to participate in different ways, so organisations need to be flexible to the purpose, context and needs of every group they engage with. This means capacity and commitment of resources.
That’s a lot of funding and capacity to put behind an engagement task. How can you do it all?
Remember there are great guides, toolkits and resources to ensure you avoid common pitfalls. Use them, and dedicate your resources and funding to tackling specific training and accessibility issues.
And use the community groups and voluntary sector organisations that are already actively engaging groups and individuals
Through these three films you’ve seen why engagement is crucial and why people often get it wrong, why hard-to-reach groups aren’t really hard to reach, and how to move from consultation to genuine empowerment.
Next up, we look at innovative engagement techniques to garner interest in groups who may not be inspired by traditional surveys and meetings.
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