We’ve been trying to turn the engagement model on it’s head by applying a few of basic principles to the process:
1). Engagement is about getting people to do something – it’s not just about broadcasting information
2). If you want people to do something it’s best to try and find something they are interested in doing and make it as simple as possible for them to get involved.
3). It’s time to flip our assumptions and make digital the default channel for engagement.
This doesn’t mean it’s all online – but you look there first and then build an offline programme that ensures you can reach anyone who you can’t reach online.
This is a co-productive model where you build engagement in as a work stream from the start of a project, rather than doing outreach work after the big decisions have been made.
Co-production is a way of approaching engagement that makes central the idea that all stakeholders should be both decision makers and actors in projects. You can see a full explanation here. The most important thing to note is that it will involve more people and be less predictable – but the upside is that greater participation means that you are more likely to create outputs that people want to act on because they feel more ownership towards them.
You need to balance this to ensure that these outputs are representative of the wider population and not just of the engaged group – but this is we believe an easily managed issue.
In terms of structuring a project it means you need to approach the engagement work slightly differently.
At the start you need to do two things:-
1). You need to research and find the people who you think will want to get involved. We do this with a social media audit followed by some work to map the offline groups that won’t be reached digitally. This whole process takes a network analysis approach to finding and mapping participants.
2) You need to scope the project so you can be really clear what can and can’t be influenced by participants. This is important if you want to get people focused on activity – you don’t want to get people focused on addressing problems which are out of scope.
Your final objective with a co-productive process shouldn’t be metrics showing how many people you have spoken to – it should be a network of people who want to use the thing you have created.
For example, in the case of the CRIF project (the creation of a renewable energy infrastructure for cambridgeshire), we are intending to leave a network of people who will use the CRIF to build renewable infrastructure and will have projects in progress that are relevant.
You should also raise awareness and make sure the process is open, but the emphasis is on connecting the actors to solve a problem.
This approach has really effective stakeholder meetings as integral to the project. Meetings are used to strengthen the network and the progress the work – not just to pass information. Meetings are webcast and reported live online and are run in an unconference format with contributions from everyone who is there – the emphasis is on coming together to collaborate rather than just to pass information as this can be done more effectively in other ways.
There are some things you need to be aware of with this approach – the main thing being that working like this surfaces problems early. It also forces you to confront some of those issues which are acknowledged and worked around by experts but seem ridiculous to the public – there are fewer places for bad thinking or bad process to hide. This is not necessarily a bad thing but does need preparing for.
The second thing to note is that this approach can take you in unexpected directions and so works better when you try and scope objectives rather than prescribing methods. Again – this is not a bad thing, but can be challenging for the professional who is used to doing things a certain way.
This last point really indicates one of the strengths of this approach: by involving more people you create a better environment for innovation.
Transparency shouldn’t just be about financial transactions. It should also be about opening up all of your process to scrutiny and involvement to give the public the opportunity to not only audit the process but also to get involved. More pragmatically, a co-productive process gives you your best chance of creating used and supported project outputs, rather than spending money on telling people things they are not interested in.
We will be writing up our work on the CRIF project over the summer, but if you want to find out more then please let us know.