Read time: 3 minutes 45 seconds

Be genuine. People notice when actions or words lack authenticity or when activities are undertaken to fulfil a process or ‘tick a box’. When this happens, cynicism sets in and people disengage from the process.

Disingenuous engagement damages the public’s trust in government and makes it harder for others that are engaging with the right intent.

Trust is one of the most important foundations upon which the legitimacy and sustainability of government systems are built.

Building and maintaining trusting relationships is key to:

- the effective functioning of government

- successful engagement and governing.

Be honest and clear about your purpose and level of engagement (Principle 1).

Are you informing, consulting, involving, collaborating or empowering?

Use this terminology and communicate what it means, repeatedly to ensure that everybody is clear about your intent. This will help you with managing expectations.

If things change, be honest about this and explain the circumstances and implications.

To manage expectations from the start, outline what is negotiable (elements that can be influenced) and what is not negotiable (elements that can’t change).

Listening to understand means:

  • stepping back for a moment
  • taking time to listen with empathy
  • gaining a better understanding of the state of play in a community.

Through active listening you will:

  • better understand the community and stakeholders you’re engaging with
  • be able to get a handle on their motivations
  • know what ‘makes them tick
  • grasp what they recognise as challenges and opportunities
  • learn how to effectively engage with them.

Upon deeper listening, you may be surprised by some of the insights you gain and there’s every chance your perspective will shift with your new information.

Always check back with the people you have engaged with to make sure your interpretations are correct. This can be done in different ways and multiple occasions, e.g. type up the discussion from a session and invite the participants to provide feedback, correct your interpretation or clarify a point. Do this again once a range of stakeholders or members of the community have been heard.

Summarise the feedback received and where possible, the government’s initial response.

A successful engagement places people, not the topic or issue, at the centre of the engagement.

Everything we do in the public service should be focused on improving the lives of South Australians and their communities. Government does this by investing time and resources in a range of issues.

Policy and program responses to these issues are complex. However, whether they are about economic development, environmental protection, reliable health care or excellent education, the final outcomes are for people and so should be shaped by people.

Ensure that your engagement is accessible by providing people with appropriate and as many opportunities to participate as possible. For example:

  • ensure timeframes for responses are appropriate
  • ensure venues are accessible and comfortable
  • make people feel welcome and valued.

Provide people with multiple opportunities to engage in your process. For example, you could:

  • hold a community workshop
  • publish the outcomes for comment on an online discussion forum
  • promote this work through a social media strategy
  • seek broader input through an online survey.

Recognise and celebrate what participants bring to the processincluding their time, ideas, knowledge, networks and other resources.

People who are participating in your engagement are usually doing so voluntarily so show your appreciation for this:

  • provide verbal recognition at the close of a meeting
  • follow up with letters of thanks
  • come back to participants to let them know what you’ve done with the material they provided.

This demonstrates that even if you were unable to do anything with their input, you recognise that it’s valuable because time was taken to provide it.

‘What happened to my idea?’, ‘Did you listen?’, ‘Did you care?’, ‘Did it make a difference?’

These are reasonable questions that participants of an engagement will ask.

The feedback loop is one of the most important elements of the engagement process and without it you cannot show real respect for your participants’ contribution.

Closing the feedback loop should happen throughout the engagement, not just at the end.

The concept of the feedback loop can be broken down into 3 elements:

We asked...

Restate the context, remind people what the engagement is about and why it  is being carried out.

If you asked specific questions or provided materials, provide these again.

You said...

Provide an overview of what has been said so far:

  • in a small group this might be individual feedback
  • in a large group or broad community engagement, it could
    be an overview of what has been said so far, highlighting the key themes and interesting points.

Provide graphically displayed statistics so people can see where their input ranked in comparison with others’ priorities.

We did...

Outline what happened with the community and stakeholder input gained through an engagement and explain why it was or wasn’t used. People will appreciate getting this honest feedback, even if their ideas and opinions were unable to influence the final outcomes.

Closing the feedback loop demonstrates your genuine commitment to the engagement and will give those involved confidence that their contribution was valued.

Completing the feedback loop will:

  • provide an opportunity to thank people for their input and participation
  • provide a better chance of re-engaging the communities and/or stakeholders in the future
  • help keeping the community as an activated, interested asset and ongoing partner.

Case Studies