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Principle 1: We know why we are engaging

Know why you are engaging with communities and stakeholders, and communicate this clearly to your participants.

This is not about knowing what the final outcome from your engagement will be. The outcome will be shaped by what you hear from the communities and stakeholders you engage with.

To know why you are engaging:

It’s vital to have a clear understanding of your engagement’s purpose:why you are engaging.

The purpose will help define your  objectives: what you hope to achieve from your engagement.

From the purpose and objectives you can start to identify the participants (Principle 2)  and the most appropriate strategies to support their participation (Principles 5 and Principle 6).

Your initiative will occur within a specific context and may be shaped by resource pressures with different people seeking influence and competing priorities. By working out what problems you want to solve and how you think this could be done, you will have a starting point to engage your stakeholders.

Be clear about the extent to which your participants and stakeholders can influence the decision or outcome. Are you seeking to inform them, consult with them or collaborate with them?

This will ensure that unrealistic expectations are not raised. The IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum provides a sound framework to help identify the appropriate level of influence.

Participant’s level of influence will vary depending on the engagement’s characteristics and may be different at different stages. E.g. you may consult the community on the development of a transport plan (consult) but invite local councils and industry bodies to collaboratively draft the plan (collaborate).

Communicate your purpose, objectives and the public’s level of influence both internally and externally.

A good communication strategy allows you to reach out to the intended participants, tell them what’s happening and make it clear to them how they can get involved.

Do not use jargon or government-speak in your engagement process. Be aware of the levels of literacy and understanding of your intended audience. Your communication strategies should assist you in talking with your stakeholders about the challenges faced and how to address them.

Establishing engagement objectives and measuring your progress, allows you to compare your practice against the outcomes you seek to achieve.

Evaluation builds transparency and accountability when you share the outcomes. It can also:

  • contribute to the evidence base
  • identify good engagement practice
  • identify how well you used public resources
  • improve future practice as you learn what worked and what didn’t.

Planning for evaluation should commence as early as possible.

Early planning will give you an opportunity to review and clarify the purpose and the objectives of your engagement. It will also help you identify:

  • the criteria you will use to measure success
  • the information you need to collect
  • the tools and resources required.

The scope of activities in the evaluation will vary based on the purpose and scale of the engagement.

Your engagement strategy needs to be responsive so that it can be adapted if it is not achieving its intended purpose and objectives.

You will need to change or adapt your plan if something changes along the process, for example:

  • your early engagement activity highlights a barrier to participation,
  • You identify a new group of participants or stakeholders that need to be involved.

Engagement designs always change and this is a good thing! – it means you are constantly watchful and ready to adjust the approach if required.

The case studies below feature how government agencies have applied Principle 1 in their engagement strategies.

Case Studies

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