Top Tips on Community Engagement
Earlier this month, The Guardian’s Local Government Network Blog held a live discussion about community engagement. Last week, they published the top tips. Here are 5 of our favourite great tips for enhancing civic engagement.
Participative versus representative need not conflict
Participative versus representative need not conflict as long as there is clear accountability. It is crucial that those being asked to take part in engagement of whatever type understand what the offer is – whether it is the ground rules of a participatory budgeting event, consultation on service changes, neighbourhood agreement, or why it is important to register to vote.
—Michael Bowles is head of governance and involvement at Sheffield city council
Councillors should be more involved with engagement
Re-thinking the role of councillors as frontline rather than backbench can go some way to improving engagement. Mainstream political parties are somewhat guilty of seeing local activists as potential candidates and the town hall version of ‘lobby fodder’. This, however, is a consequence of the creeping “executivisation” of local government where more and more power is vested in the hands of fewer members and officers. Models for dispersed and collective place leadership should involve more and not fewer people.
—Dr Nicola Headlam is a post doctoral researcher in the Centre for Urban Policy Studies at the University of Manchester
Offer a range of options to communicate
As human beings going about our lives, we’d never talk to everyone in exactly the same way, we need to be flexible and adaptive as conversations develop. We’ve used social media quite a bit to try and engage with young people but with mixed results, I’d say. Some young people feed back to us and say that they don’t want to be approached this way. It intrudes into their social space. So we need lots of different kinds of conversations, carried out in a way that suits people and matches the way they like to communicate. For me this points to a shift away from big set piece engagement exercises to real-time capture of what people are saying.
—Duncan Wood is head of research and analysis at Essex county council
Funding of public engagement should be built into the resourcing for projects
Funding of public engagement should be built into the resourcing for projects to ensure that we can afford to ask the real questions that are relevant to the issues. There is an education issue for us and our colleagues about why exactly we are engaging with our residents and what benefit it will have for us in service delivery and improvement.
—Kay Asuni is a research and analysis officer at Essex county council
To engage with more just the ‘usual suspects’ we’ve started to use technology more and more. Bulk text surveys have proved very successful for us, both in terms of the volume of people taking part and the unit cost. For each paper survey we might have posted in the past we can text 40 residents for the same cost and the response rates are far greater. Also, online meetings are proving popular in attracting new people as they can be involved without leaving the house. These methods all seem to attract a younger demographic as well, which helps to solve another problem around engagement.
—Mitch Allseybrook is resident involvement manager at Derwent Living
You can view the discussion in full here.