The most successful consultations require a strategic engagement plan, one that combines both big-picture, visionary goals, and step-by-step detailed approaches. A well-designed engagement strategy helps connect a community from the start and continues to bring more people to the table.
Fortunately, there are clear steps to follow when developing an engagement plan for a project, and this framework will put a consultation on its best path to success. There are four main steps involved: planning, preparing, engaging, and reporting.
The first question that needs to be answered is, “What’s the purpose of this consultation?” and, beyond that, “Will key decision-makers be interested in the subsequent community feedback?” Without internal buy-in, an engagement plan could be all for naught.
Once an organization has buy-in, from the top down, the plans should be added to an engagement calendar that can be accessed by all members of the organization or department.
Next, it’s imperative to have a complete understanding of the background information and historical context for the topic. For example, it’s important to find out whether the information sought through community engagement is already available within an organization.
In this step of the process, identifying key stakeholders, defining clear objectives and outcomes, and establishing parameters and negotiables are essential. Additionally, an understanding of the broader audience will guide not only the type of engagement chosen but also the communication style employed.
Effective preparation includes organizing resources, gathering all necessary information regarding the project, and delegating tasks to staff members. Additionally, developing a strong marketing and communications plan to reach the target audience will be key. A marketing plan should move beyond just social media posts, it should utilize a wide variety of methods to reach people where they are.
“It’s not as simple as placing an ad in the paper anymore.” – Dan Popping, Engagement Manager, Bang the Table
In the preparation stage, outline all the details needed to see the engagement plan through, whether it’s catering for an in-person event or contacting tech support to set up a virtual workshop.
This step is the act of engagement with community stakeholders.
As engagement efforts are happening, be sure to continuously evaluate outcomes. If a consultation isn’t showing successful results, they should be adjusted for improvement.
By performing regular check-ins, specific parts of the community engagement plan that are causing issues can be identified. Check-ins should analyze whether the consultation is reaching the intended demographics if the data being produced is actionable and if there are high levels of engagement. Evaluations while engaging ensures the best outcomes.
Once a consultation has concluded, the feedback data needs to be analyzed. This analysis process is incredibly important to identify common themes and perspectives, which will inform a department’s or organization’s priorities moving forward.
Inevitably, there will be a comment or statement that encapsulates public sentiment regarding a topic, and it’s crucial to be able to attribute powerful quotes to individuals. When presenting findings to decision-makers, powerful quotes or ideas from specific community stakeholders can be impactful to display community sentiment in an easy-to-understand way.
Reporting results to the community is essential. “Closing the loop” encourages future participation in other consultations and builds trust with residents. A report presented to decision-makers and a report to the community will probably look different. The community report is an opportunity to tell a community what was heard, what is going to be done in the short-term and long-term, and why.
Lastly, once feedback is fully analyzed and reported back to stakeholders, the whole process should be evaluated. This step is often skipped when there’s another project looming, but it’s worth spending extra time to understand what worked and what didn’t. Using that knowledge to improve new projects and engagement plans will be beneficial to the organization and community.
The Nuts and Bolts: What tools are available?
EngagementHQ offers an effective set of tools for gaining and analyzing feedback. When choosing the right mix of tools for a consultation, the audience, the type of feedback needed, and analysis needs should all be considered.
Here are common tools that can be employed in a community engagement action plan:
- Forums: This tool creates a space for discussion, dialogue, and debate. Participants have an opportunity to share experiences, ask questions, and have conversations in a safe and interactive environment.
- Places: Places are a simple way to gather community feedback and ideas directly on a map. Participants drop a “pin” in the area of concern, add photos, and then fill in a quick survey.
- Stories: When we tell or hear a story, neuroscience tells us that we experience things on a higher and more resonant level. The Stories tool helps your community better understand, empathize, and relate to others, as well as your project goals.
- Surveys: This tool gives stakeholders an opportunity to voice their opinion in a convenient and guided way, which has historically shown higher response rates than other formats.
- Polls: The Polls tool encourages community members to provide a quick answer to one question, selecting from multiple choice answers. They are able to instantly see results, piquing their interest, and giving them real-time insight.
Moreover, there are other tools to consider using while drafting a community engagement plan as well to reach a broader, more diverse portion of a community. To see the tools in action, watch a four-minute demo of EngagementHQ.