For the last four years, we’ve researched, tested and shared ideas to improve engagement in the voluntary sector and in marginalised communities.
There is a variety of ways to engage the public. The most familiar approaches – fact sheets, websites, surveys, focus groups and public meetings - are generally useful if you want to inform or consult groups or individuals. But if you really want to increase public engagement, find collaborative solutions, and empower people to get involved in and take control over decision making, you need to move beyond the familiar. You need to consider using techniques that change the engagement dynamic.
We have found proven approaches that are not expensive or difficult to run, but really make a difference in the quality of the engagement process. And there are plenty of online guides and examples to help you.
The World Café method involves setting up the room for people to discuss issues in small table groups. Conversation is relaxed and informal, and participants move between tables to ensure that ideas are exchanged and built on.
It is really important to get the question right and ideally to develop the question with some of the participants beforehand.
Fishbowl is a great approach for discussing difficult issues with two sides holding very different views.
The room is arranged into two circles, with participants separated into one group or the other, depending on their view. Only those in the inner circle, or fishbowl, are able to speak. The others have to sit and listen until they invited to the inner circle.
This method works best with a facilitator. It can really help both sides to really listen to the other’s views.
Appreciative Inquiry is an approach that focuses on the positive. It is structured in four stages – Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny. It uses different questions at each stage to focus on past successes, build a vision for the future and look at what can be done to build on success.
It can stop discussions getting bogged down in in the negative and to focus on what is working well and what could be better.
There are lots of other techniques, including participatory budgeting, citizens jury, Open Space
and Crowdwise. They are all worth looking at if you want to improve your engagement practice.
Planning and reflection
The key to success is planning.
It is important to reflect on the purpose of the engagement,
to understand the context and community you are engaging,
then to look at what approach is best suited to that situation.
But don’t be afraid to try something new!
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