Often community engagement comes as an afterthought. It shouldn’t, but it’s true.
Here at OurSay, we frequently hear from experienced communication and community engagement experts that they are the last to hear about a project!
This can be frustrating to say the least. For us, a big part of our job is to make sure our colleagues understand that we need to be given plenty of time and plenty of warning to help them deliver an outstanding community engagement activity.
In the cases where communication and planning fails, we can find ourselves pulling together a community engagement program at the last minute. OK - to be honest - in the last sixty minutes.
So, how do we supercharge a community engagement program to maximum effect with minimum time and effort?
Here are the sure-fire steps we use to make it happen:
Step #1: Build Your Team
Recruit a team of 3-5 people currently related to the project. This could be an executive team, a council, or committee or a mixed bag of people you need to drive this campaign.
You might aim to recruit 5-7 people with the view of keeping 3-5. Keep in mind that the success of your community engagement project depends on you building a team of people who are motivated to be part of it.
Step #2: Prepare the Tools You’ll Need to Succeed
- Book a room or space for 60 minutes and invite your team to arrive on time.
- Print off a copy of these steps for each person to receive upon arrival.
- Provide textas and 6-7 large sized post-it notes per person
- Welcome everyone and outline the broad purpose of the project. Then introduce the first activity.
Step #3: Get Your Foundations Right (15 minutes)
Aim to do this activity in silence. Your objective is to gather information and ideas, and this is where your large post-it notes will come in handy.
Ask everyone to write their own answers to each of the following questions relating to the project. Use a separate post-it note for each response.
- What are the most frustrating issues you know about? (eg. the cat’s claws)
- What are the most interesting ideas you know about? (eg purple cows)
- Who do you think are our critical audiences?
- What do you think we need those audiences to do?
- What is one thing you wish your audience understood about the service you provide?
Now you compare and note the most common responses to these questions. It’s helpful to focus on areas of the project which have both “cat claws” and “purple cows”. It is between these two answers that we have a confluence of information that is both important and interesting.
Cat Claws: the most frustrating issues we know.
Purple Cows: the most interesting issues we know.
Step #5: What is the Community Engagement Program Goal? (12 minutes)
This is a three-part process to nut out with your team.
Part 1: Define 5 key sections of your community by answering:
- Who are our critical audiences?
- How do we want to segment them to reach them effectively?
Part 2: Define the “Call to Actions” and interventions by answering:
- What do we want each audience segment to do?
- Where do they spend their time and how do they like to be engaged with?
Part 3: Write a “Divide and Conquer Plan” to directly engage with each audience segment.
Step #5: Develop a Core Message for the Program (7 minutes)
Note and compare responses to the following questions. Group them into like-for-like themes and then vote on everyone’s favourite.
- What is the one thing you wish your customers understood about the service you provide?
- What is the greatest untold story about your organisation?
Step #6: Debrief and actions (10 minutes)
Here you’ll connect each cat claw with a purple cow. This enables you to identify the crux of the issue you are engaging on.
Next, pinpoint “who will talk to who” in the divide and conquer plan.
Then, merge your chosen agreed message (step 5) with your targeted call-to-actions (step 4) that you and your team developed for each audience segment.
Finally, identify any collateral needed. For instance: surveys, online forums, meeting invitations, microsites, phone number and email lists, and printing any documents needed in order to get started.
If all goes according to plan, you’ll have ten minutes to spare before your next meeting. We suggest you treat yourself to a bagel :)
It’s not ideal to pull together a community engagement program at the last minute, but it can be done well if the process is primed for efficiency.
Remember, the success of your project depends upon you building a motivated team. You can make it easier for your people to contribute, and for you to gather their responses, if you prepare the tools needed in advance. Always compare notes and identify the information that is newsworthy. This will help you determine the goal of your program and it’s core message. And keep in mind that the debrief is crucial to your meeting as it will help you assign roles and tasks to your team so that your plan can be executed.
Being able to access and measure the public’s perception of risk is one necessary tool in an effective engagement strategy. If you’d like to know more about increasing participation in online engagement, please download our free ebook Online Insights Guide.