A free database of tips and ideas for anyone looking to increase their skills in the community and stakeholder engagement space.  A new #MicroSkill is posted on our Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin news feeds every week 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 Instead of having your guest speakers address the whole group, consider 'speed dating', where speakers have in-depth 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. 

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 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.

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 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 Early in a meeting, where you know there may be outrage present (although you may not know how it will manifest), 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.

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  Have an ugly, cold or unfriendly space?  Use plants!  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. 

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. 


Free micro skill tips - managing advisory committees

#1 Avoid the risk of your committee becoming confused, frustrated and directionless by ensuring your terms of reference are clear and concise. 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 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.