A free database of tips and ideas for anyone looking to increase their skills in the community and stakeholder engagement space.  New skills are posted on our Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin news feeds regularly before being added to the lists below, so follow us to make sure you don't miss any of this handy, pocket-sized skills! 

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#1 Consider 'speed dialogue' in place of guest speakers addressing the whole group - speakers have in-depth, two-way conversations with small groups of participants (rotating between groups).  Participants will be more engaged and, ultimately, more informed. 

#2 Remove tables!  Tables both a physical and mental barrier to working together. By removing tables you can use space more productively (e.g. create smaller group spaces or a large group physical activity). There are times when tables are useful – particularly when you have templates or laptops.  In these cases we like to use smaller café-style tables to ensure the groups can hear each other and work together more effectively. 

#3 Don't move to the next project or process without a debrief process or any form of review.  Acknowledging and learning from achievements and mistakes is what takes your engagement processes from adequate to great. 

#4 Decision maker buy-in is essential before you engage.  Reduce the risk of your organisation looking red-faced and damaging (rather than enhancing) relationships by doing some internal engagement and preparation work before you commence your process.  Want to check if you’re ready for a deliberative or high influence engagement process?  Use our free assessment test here. 

#5 Learn to let go at the right time.  While there's parts of every engagement process that require planning, analysis, and management, there's also moments where an organisation needs to to trust their community or stakeholders and give them a little space.  This will help to build mutual trust and give participants the air head space they need to process information, weigh up issues and work together to provide quality outputs without too much interruption or interference.

Communicating around engagement processes

#1 Don’t be afraid to communicate even when there is nothing ‘new’ to report. Mitigate the risk of misinformation spreading due to information gaps and remind your stakeholders they aren’t forgotten by regularly confirming project status and next steps. This will build understanding and support faster than irregular or adhoc updates/involvement when it suits you or your project.

#2 Complex, technical or heavy information can be transformed through visuals.  An infographic, animation or even a series of photographs can make the difference between uninformed, unengaged people and people that are interested in and have a good understanding of the issue.

#3 Effective communication is an essential part of every engagement process.  Ensure your communications team is on board early and has the plans and resources in place to be both responsive and proactive, communicating early and often throughout the process. 

#4 To build and maintain trust and credibility, be generous with information - good or bad - and ensure people are able to access what they need and want from you freely and easily. 

#5 Question and test whether information really needs to remain confidential - have challenging internal discussions about the true (not perceived) risk of releasing all the information at hand. Sometimes, it's less risky in the long run to put all the information on the table in the first place, and remember that information that surfaces or is uncovered part way through a process can be damaging. 

#6 Be prepared to be flexible and responsive throughout your engagement process - don't assume the information you decided to put forward at the beginning is enough on its own.  You need to ensure you are tuning into what your stakeholders/communities are saying and what information they require throughout the life of the project. 

#7 Internal policies and processes can underpin success or failure communication protocols, frameworks and approval processes need to be fit for purpose.  If they don't allow the organisation to communicate in a timely, tailored, responsive and effective way, a review or internal conversation might be needed. 

#8 Get the tone right- your communications should reflect a genuine, organisational commitment to understanding, listening, partnerships and collaboration.  An organisation that appears to be trying to congratulate itself, win an argument, publish 'spin' or sell something will find it challenging to build trust and relationships.

Reaching diverse voices

#1 Look at recruitment approaches.  Consider the use of random sampling or reach out via a range of community groups. 

#2 Hold a series of face-to-face, small group conversations with targeted groups at a time and location convenient for them, preferably in their own space.

#3 Provide opportunities for individual thinking - when running a broader engagement activity (like a workshop), offer opportunities for individual thinking and pairs/small groups discussions before coming together into a large group discussion.

#4 Identify barriers to engagement - is childcare an issue? Language barriers? Timing?  Venue accessibility? Sometimes simple solutions like providing a supervised activity space for kids, engaging a interpreter,  moving the session by an hour or two, carefully considering location/venue and looking into transport options can make a big difference to participation rates. 

#5 Reach out to a few people that represent the participants you are targeting, or have a discussion with someone that works with that type of group regularly prior to consulting them.  Gain some ‘expert’ insights on their needs, preferences and challenges so you can tailor your session or activity appropriately and ensure you have the best chance of engaging effectively.   

Free tips - internal engagement

#1 Bring the project team together for a meeting that's just about engagement - it gives people the time and focus they need to discuss and get clear on the engagement approach and their role in it moving forward. 

#2 Demonstrate how your project or plan is consistent with organisational values and relevant strategies.  Show decision makers how you're strategy will meet agreed objectives and how your approach is consistent with these guiding documents.

#3 Don't assume that everyone will be across what engagement looks like or why you're doing it. Ensure everyone on your project team is aware of the organisation's engagement policy or framework, the purpose of this specific engagement process as well as where it fits within the overall project.  

Free tips - engagement planning and engagement strategy

#1 Look up studies of similar projects. You can also contact people involved in projects that you admire, ask them for insights about what they learned, what they would do differently and then share these insights internally. 

#2 Find some engagement planning templates that will guide your approach.  There's a lot of useful resources available that will help you to develop a robust, effective engagement approach.

#3 Seek out colleagues that have been involved in an effective process and gather intel: What worked? What didn't?  Who was involved? What has changed since their project took place?

Planning and managing a community engagement event

#1 Extra space is preferable to a venue that’s too small and offers you more flexibility.  Spare room can be used for breakout areas, displays etc. and means participants won’t feel claustrophobic.

#2 Use plants! Have an ugly, cold or unfriendly space?    Greenery softens a venue and creates a natural, relaxed, comfortable atmosphere.  Plants can also hide a multitude of venue sins… 

#3 Natural light is always better than artificial light and venues with large windows and/or outdoor spaces are ideal.  Participants will feel more alert, relaxed and productive if they don't feel shut in and have access to fresh air. 

#4 Imagine your venue/event from a participant’s point of view – follow the journey they will take in your mind.  Will they feel welcomed, comfortable, accepted and supported from arrival to departure?

#5 Catering should never be an afterthought – it’s key to relationship building, participant comfort and overall productivity and sharing food can lead to shared conversations and new connections. 

#6 A conversation between your facilitator and the venue is crucial - Miscommunication and mishaps can be avoided (and any specific requirements can be catered for) by ensuring this discussion happens early in the planning process. 

#7 Check with your venue to ensure the space is separate - wherever possible avoid the possibility of having 'interlopers' from an unrelated workshop or other guests moving through your space and disrupting participants. 

Working with conflict and outrage

#1 Don't shy away from the signs of conflict.  Instead, view conflict as an offer that you accept, embrace and address.

#2 Acknowledge the differences and tension points within the conflict, then explore the issue and seek clarification.

#3 Active listening is key - when working with people showing signs of outrage, you don’t just need to listen, you need actively show that you’re listening.  Active listening by paraphrasing and summarising are conversational skills that can apply to any interaction, but are crucial in this context.

#4 Gauge concern levels & understand the issues - early in a meeting, where you know there may be outrage present, get a sense of concern levels straight away.  Ask questions like “why are you here?”, “what do you want to achieve?” or “what questions would you like answered?.  The responses (and tone of responses) will inform your next steps, and and enable people to get their issues out on the table or onto the agenda early.

#5 Clarifying is simple but powerful.  Not only does it show that you're listening and interested, ensuring others feel heard, it also allows you to uncover crucial information that sheds light on the issue at hand - so always ask plenty of questions if a group or individual shows signs of emotion, outrage or concern.

Free micro skill tips - managing advisory committees

#1 Ensure your terms of reference are clear and concise and avoid the risk of your committee becoming confused, frustrated and directionless . Also ensure that both committee members are clear on the problem they are addressing, the level of influence they will have and how their input will be used. 

#2 Give your selection process some transparency and increase trust by appointing a 'selection group' that includes a few key stakeholders and oversees formation of the committee. 

#3 Ensure diverse representation by using alternative recruitment approaches to stock standard EoI processes.  Alternatives include selecting members matched to a stakeholder analysis or running a stratified random selection process.  

#4 Avoid using meetings for information sharing where possible (provide information prior if needed), and allow enough time and flexibility in the agenda to identify everyone's ideas and weigh up the pros and cons of different options.  Having effective conversations is helped by engaging a professional facilitator who can help everyone to have more effective meetings.  

#5 Give your committee some direction and clarity by providing them with a high level (yet flexible) road-map for the project or issue that guides their journey and clearly outlines the process. 

#6 Ensure your committee co-designs a set of agreed behavioural guidelines at the beginning.  This process is best led by a facilitator and will ensure the risk of bad behaviour, lack of respect and a group stuck due to polarised views is mitigated.  

Embedding engagement - free resources tips

#1 Identify key decision makers that value the framwork and advocate for its implementation.

#2 Clearly communicate with staff and ensure everyone is familiar with their role in delivering the strategy.

#3 Identify, encourage and support internal champions of the framework - continue to build this key group of champions across the life of the document.

#4 Develop internal training programs that up-skill staff.  These programs should include clear guidance on how to realistically put the framework into practice.

#5 Link engagement professionals to other staff.  Ensure systems are in place that help staff to connect and collaborate with people with engagement expertise at the right time and in an effective way. 

#6 Provide access to easy to use templates, resources and guides that will help staff to navigate an engagement planning process, and strive for quality and consistency.

#7 Build the strategy into evaluation processes. For example, align measures around a project to principles within the framework.  

#9 Ensure accountability - regular check-ins on milestone projects should seek to ensure that engagement processes are demonstrating the framework in practice.

#10 Update recruitment and induction processes to ensure they include relevant reference to the framework.

#11 Develop A culture of sharing project success stories, lessons learned etc. that demonstrates the value the organisation places on engagement.


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