I’ve worked in Community and Stakeholder Engagement for a while now and there are a few bad community engagement habits that I see again and again.
The good news is all of these bad community engagement habits are easily fixed. And fixing them will help you create better relationships with stakeholders not to mention – proactive, positive, robust engagement processes
Habit Number 1 = Communication/Engagement Confusion
Engagement is an umbrella term for a huge array of tools and activities. Communication (inform techniques) is one form of engagement but is not the sum of all engagement. Communication is the one-way flow of information to your stakeholders. It’s a passive form of engagement. If you feel you are doing a lot of communication with stakeholders but they don’t seem to be satisfied. It is likely you are under engaging and at least some of your stakeholders require a more active approach.
That is, a proportion of your stakeholders don’t just want to listen to what you are doing they want to impact what you are doing. A stakeholder analysis will help you know the difference.
Communication is just one layer of engagement, if it is your only approach it’s likely your project is lacking engagement experience and/or planning (see habit no.3…). If you are having issues with stakeholders and facing frustration from them – taking a step back and undertaking an engagement planning process is strongly advised.
Habit Number 2 = Starting engagement at the end
“What Community and Stakeholder Engagement have you done” or ‘we better check what the public thinks about this” might be two phrases that get thrown around when you have finished your project and looking to announce your decision(s).
Put your hand up if you have ever started engagement at the end of a project only to find you had to chase your tail to include stakeholder comments, take significant steps back in the project or caused stakeholder outrage because they hadn’t been included?
This is pretty common and generally when internal or external engagement expertise is brought in.
Good engagement planning will develop engagement process for all stages of a project. The earlier the better! The earlier your engagement process start the greater the opportunity for you and stakeholders to work together, vision the future and develop solutions together in a constructive environment.
Habit Number 3 = No Planning
To be effective, engagement should be planned and proactive across the life of your project (this needs to be engagement planning, not just communication planning).
The most important part of engagement planning is the investigation of stakeholders. It is this process, and this process only, that will help you choose the array of tools and activities for your mix of stakeholders across the life of your project. That is, who needs a communication-based approach and who requires a more active approach. Planning will also help you identify the issues or decisions in your project that will benefit from involving others in collaboration or empower process(es).