Best Practices

There are certain critical lessons that we have gathered over the last dozen years of public engagement. Near the top of that list is that almost all public engagements arrive from clients "pre-cooked". Learn more here as to what that is and how we can do better.

Usual Approach to Public Engagement:

Public engagement, whether it be virtual, in person or online, consists of a number of parts. Simpler public engagement, usually defined by fewer engagement variables, has a more straight forward path to engaging with its audience. Those are important but are out of scope for the opinion we are presenting here. More complex public engagement requires a more thoughtful approach and methodology.

Unfortunately, very often, we are asked to partner on public engagements that arrive with the content engagement (or strategic engagement) already determined. The content engagement is the question or questions, challenge, etc. that the audience will respond to either in real time activities or through online tools. Regularly, the content engagement has a narrow perspective, usually a perspective that is limited to what the sponsor has heard, has been obligated to use for a variety of reasons, etc.

So What's The Problem?

There are several problems associated with jumping to content engagement too early. Among others:

  • the most obvious problem is that your audience is engaging on the wrong questions or, at the least, they are not engaging on the optimal questions
  • segments of your intended audience will turn away as they don't relate to the question(s) put forward and don't see themselves or their community captured in the engagement content.
  • if your questions are off or limited, your responses will be as well, which carries over to the decisions taken and ultimately, the impact on those affected by the decisions
  • This is an important problem to try and solve.

A Better Public Engagement Structure

We believe that there is a better approach to public engagement, particularly for complex issues. This approach requires that extra steps are built into the shaping of the engagement content. Instead of having the topic and the engagement content coupled together, as is often the case, they are separated.

    Inserted in between is a narrative building exercise. Depending on the nature of the topic and other variables involved including the stakeholders, different narrative building exercises can be undertaken. Consistent in any exercise is the opportunity for all stakeholders to share their views on the topic and to ensure that all views or narratives are exposed to all stakeholder groups participating in some manner.

    The narrative building exercise has two principal outcomes. First, it provides a more comprehensive spectrum of learned experiences and views on the topic and how it should be handled. Second, all stakeholders have an opportunity to be exposed to and learn about different and, often, competing narratives and positions.

    The benefits of including narrative building in your public engagement methodology are numerous. It includes:

  • a fuller perspective on the topic at hand, informed by experiences across your entire audience
  • insights that will allow for engagement content that is best aligned to your topic...and your audience
  • higher levels of engagement and participation across all stakeholder communities
  • ultimately, a better engagement producing responses from your audience that give direction and confidence to decisions take.
  • As mentioned, not every public engagement warrants the inclusion of narrative building, but if you have the time and a complex public issue we believe you should pause and consider it.

    Publivate has been a recognized leader in online engagement and consultation for the last decade with unique and proven tools, methods, and expertise to support a wide spectrum of online dialogue activities.

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January 26th, 2020

Adam Coleman

Best Practices

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