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What is genuine engagement in a networked world?

By September 28, 2012 One Comment

Public-i is collaborating with our friends at the Democratic Society and OCSI to bring local government an open and networked approach to engagement. By getting together we’re combining our unique sets of skills to create what we believe is an exciting, attractive package offering genuine engagement.

Of course that begs a question: what is ‘genuine engagement’? Well, for us, it is defined by a set of principles. We’ve already begun sketching that out here and here and we’re calling our approach Open Network. It reflects our belief in working in an open, collaborative way of working and are responsive to the changes in society, technology and culture we see around us…

  • It’s about building lasting networks: The philosophy behind this approach is to develop a network of actors within communities – who can work together, have the skills and understand the process well beyond just the project. That network will link communities with local government and offer bedrock for further engagement and consultation work.
  • Open working: To work together you need to be open in what you do. By sharing your practices, thoughts and data you will enable collaboration and your engagement will be more inclusive and effective.
  • Being digitally native means leaving no one behind: Digital can reduce costs and increase reach but it is also agile – so you can deliver special attention to the hard to reach.
  • You need to be agile. We’re encountering massive, ongoing change. That change isn’t a fixed event; it will continue. For organisations to cope with this they need to be able to develop a way of thinking (and an approach to engagement) that is quick witted and fleet footed.
There are a some other very important things:-
  • Good engagement relies on great research: To work with communities you need to be able to understand them – and to do that you need to have the skills to research them, both qualitatively and quantitatively.
  • Really good engagement means working together: It doesn’t equate to being informed, nor is it code for ‘agree’. For people to engage they need to be able to make a genuine contribution and be part of the decision-making process.
  • This is about democracy. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this being seen within the context of local democracy. There will be plenty of chance to talk more about this, but for good engagement to work it has to link back to the democratic process.

What this means

Our projects will start with carefully thought-out hard and soft research that looks at how we can best engage with individual communities and build networks. By identifying the hard-to-reach early we can use a pallet of digital-engagement techniques to respond to different needs, ensuring everyone can take part.

Equally, this agile, open approach means we’ll establish links with existing groups and find events that we can take part in when spreading the word, while our own meetings will focus on those who we’ve already identified can engage and take part in developing the work. And because we will concentrate on developing open, reusable resources (both on and offline) we will be able to share our work and its benefits widely with others to strengthen links with the communities we’re working with.

All the way through the process the aim will be to build links that help establish a resilient community of actors who can engage in and communicate the project’s aims. By doing this we’ll develop a pool of knowledge and expertise that will help bolster, test and support the work – and will be of enormous potential value long after the project wraps up.

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