Many consultation processes are fatally flawed. They are simply designed to crowd-source “opinion”. And we know what is wrong with opinion.
It’s often non-factual, untested, narrow, all care with no responsibility and almost certainly simplistic.
The problem lies in the way we design our consultation. Asking the wrong questions, usually to minimise exposure and control the conversation, is common practice, but in reality this only leads to wasted opportunities to engage. And it doesn't endear respondents to participating again in the future.
So let’s work on how we can do better as engagement professionals and avoid this.
When designing community engagement processes we need to make sure we go beyond capturing opinion and see if we can ask community to genuinely take ownership of their ideas.
When members of the community are given a chance to think beyond a superficial level, we find their views become more nuanced, and more practiced as they are asked to respond again later. In fact, they often see problems and challenges in new light, often recognising their own role in change.
The trick of course here is underpinned by the strategy - if you want community to take ownership of their ideas, then you need to structure the engagement process to let them take ownership. This can be daunting at first, but once you get started you will never look back.
A simple way to do this is to be re-think what questions we are asking our community stakeholders. Here are some examples:
- Are we asking our community for feedback on our Draft Plan? If yes, you will likely get opinion.
- Are we asking people for ideas for Council? If yes, you will likely get opinion.
Instead, what you can do is reframe these questions to allow ownership to take place. Next time, ask:
- “Here is our Draft Plan. What questions do you have for us about it?”
By asking for questions, we are giving community stakeholders an opportunity to be informed on the issues. Informed people have a better chance of taking ownership.
- “Here are some ideas we have heard. How might we work with community to implement them?”
By asking for solutions, rather than ideas/problems, we are inviting community stakeholders to consider different options. People who understand options are more likely to consider different trade-offs, pros and cons - hallmarks of people taking ownership.
You can do better to create ownership instead of opinions by reframing the questions. What are you thinking of asking your community, and how might it look if you were reframe it for a better consultation?
If you found this information useful, see how you can measure the return on your investment for every community consultation.