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Who should you be engaging with?

Is there more than one community?

Are there hidden audiences, under-represented people, hard-to-reach groups or people who may not be obvious stakeholders?

Answers to the above questions will help you determine which methodologies will attract people to your engagement (Principle 6).

Knowing who to engage flows naturally from knowing why you’re engaging (Principle 1).

Throughout your engagement, there are likely to be different voices competing to be heard. It may be appropriate to engage them at different stages and in different ways.

When thinking about who to engage, consider:

It’s important to understand who you are going to engage, who is involved, their expectations, motivations and desires. This will help you identify the people, communities and stakeholders who are affected by and/or interested in the topic of your engagement.

Interested participants may not be directly affected, but they can still have very strong views, opinions and ideas on the topic.

Affected and interested people and communities may fall into particular geographic, demographic, social or economic categories.

What’s in it for them?

A good engagement is one that draws people into the process by understanding what motivates and interests them. Motivators can be intrinsic or extrinsic.

People motivated intrinsically will take part without expecting any personal gain or benefit. They may see the process as an opportunity to improve their community.

People motivated extrinsically will expect some benefit or recognition from their participation, which could be:

  • Immediate, e.g. the chance to win a prize related to the engagement (Principle 6)
  • longer-term – related to the outcome of the issue that you are engaging on.

Your stakeholders

They may include:

  • non-government organisations: e.g. advocacy groups, peak bodies, industry groups and unions, or,
  • academic bodies: e.g.universities, research centres, think tanks, etc.

Interested stakeholders can:

  • provide knowledge and insight, which complements the experience of affected communities and stakeholders
  • support your engagement with other affected stakeholders and communities. E.g. peak bodies in the disability health sector may be able to provide advice on how to access and work with people with disability and organisations that represent them

It might also be valuable to engage with people and stakeholders who are not affected to get an independent perspective, particularly for complex issues.

  • What are the key issues your affected and interested communities are concerned with?
  • What is the background to the specific issue you are engaging on (Principle 3)?
  • Who are the community leaders who will be able to speak for their community and attract more people into the process?
  • what are the power dynamics in the community?

Community leaders may be obvious - local business people, councillors, Aboriginal or multicultural leaders. Or they may be more difficult to find — a local teacher, environmental volunteer, or doctor.

To help you identify community leaders, monitor local media, looking out for people who are writing columns or regularly corresponding with the editor.

Consider those people you are engaging with and your stakeholders from an appreciative lens and think about them as an asset to your engagement process. Consider what they can contribute including the experiences and resources they can bring, as well as their key alliances.

In their book, "The Power of Co: The Smart Leaders' Guide to Collaborative Governance" 1 (PDF, 2.2MB), Vivien Twyford and others discuss the concept of collaborative governance (PDF, 810KB) and compel us to consider who to engage with from a different perspective than the traditional stakeholder list.

Sometimes, because of previous poor engagement processes, government can be viewed with great scepticism in the community, and many people won’t trust you or your objectives.

If you don’t have trusting relationships, you need to be aware of who does, and how they might be able to support you to connect with the people you need to. You can find out more about this in Principle 3.

We have some stakeholder analysis tools that may help you move beyond the stakeholder list.

Hugh Mackay writes about the importance of a sense of place in his book, "What Makes Us Tick?"2. If you’re engaging with a geographically defined community, recognise that their sense of belonging to that place is likely to be high. Showing respect to the community can help build strong relationships.

1. Vivien Twyford et al (2012), The Power of Co: The Smart Leaders Guide to Collaborative Governance

2. Hugh Mackay (2010), What Makes us Tick?

Under-represented people, sometimes called hard-to-reach, may include:

The Prepare tab has a number of fact sheets that will provide you with more information on this topic.

There is also a risk that a noisy minority will overwhelm the engagement process and prevent you from hearing the views and opinions of the quiet majority.

For reaching the quiet majority you will need to identify that they exist and then discover why they are silent (not participating in your engagement).

Consider innovative ways to engage them. Having trust-based relationships with on-the-ground community leaders can be helpful with this.

If you don’t have trusting relationships with the community and can’t establish them, random sampling can be an effective mechanism to obtain the views of a broad cross-section.

Look for partnering opportunities. Are there other engagement processes or community events planned or underway that your process can be coordinated with? If there are you may be able to save time and resources by collaborating.

Another tier of government, government agency, or stakeholder may have stronger networks in the community. You may find it much easier to partner with them to deliver engagement activities rather than starting from scratch or going solo.

In his book "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference" 3, Canadian journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell identifies the types of people you need to connect with to drive change.

He describes these people as being either connectors, mavens or salespeople.

  • Connectors link us up with the world... people with a special gift for bringing the world together. They are described as ‘a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [...for] making friends and acquaintances.’
  • Mavens/experts are information specialists - who are known for accumulating knowledge and sharing it with others.
  • Salespeople are persuaders, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills who can sell ideas and opinions to the public.

These categories might be useful to help identify people who could fulfil these roles and assist you with your engagement activity.

Who are the trusted leaders? Identifying ‘community leaders’ and seeking their help to draw the community into an engagement process can deliver dividends in both numbers engaged and the quality of information gained.

3. Malcolm Gladwell (2000), The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Keep local councils in mind when identifying your engagement audiences.

  • Should you be catching up with the CEO, Mayor or Chairperson for coffee?
  • Is it worth asking the council to promote engagement sessions through its networks?
  • Does the opportunity exist to partner with the council to deliver an engagement activity?

Local government is the closest tier of government to the people because of its daily interaction with communities.

Councils may also be able to provide a local perspective on the issue of your engagement and highlight any issues or concerns that might need to be understood before your engagement begins (Principle 4).

Case Studies