I am a fan of collaboration and co-creation — they build buy-in and reduce blind spots every time. But I am also committed to meaningful engagement. Too often when people are planning stakeholder consultations or community engagement, they are doing so because they feel they should or have to, but when you scratch below the surface, they actually don’t have anything worthwhile to ask people. Instead, they either just have information to share, or they are simply “ticking a box.” (For more on this, have a look at the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation. If you’re at the “Inform” end of the scale, be there clearly and proudly!)
Conceptually this makes sense to most of us, but we continue to do it anyway. It plays itself out in confusing conversations, unfocused meetings and cynical participants. We’ve all been there.
In these days of prolonged fatigue and uncertainty, it is a gift to offer people gifts of time and clarity. In my practice, that means inviting them to attend shorter (and fewer!) meetings, to address a brief list of targeted, purposeful questions, and/or to weigh in on a draft document rather than creating it together from scratch. As outlined in the recent YMCA WorkWell Insights to Impact report, one way to address burnout is to reduce workloads. Those of us planning engagement or strategy development processes can take this to heart in our designs.
The space in our brains devoted to decision making is very crowded right now. Most of us can barely choose an option from a takeout menu! Let’s make sure that if we’re placing demands on people’s scarce attention, we make it as easy as possible for them to respond. I’m usually an advocate of asking people what they think. These days, it may be more generous to tell them clearly what we need.