As community engagement professionals many of us will have experienced the panic and dread of having to put together a last-minute consultation.
Whether it’s being stopped at 4.45pm on a Friday and told you need to prepare a project for go-live on Monday, or, you’ve been blindsided by a communication which has gone out and your consultation project isn’t ready, these situations can put stress and strain on your ability to deliver a well planned engagement project.
These situations are what we call ‘panic engagement’ and they can be extremely challenging for community engagement practitioners.
To help you deal with these sticky situations we compiled a list of tips to help you manage these ‘panic’ engagement situations better.
10 tips for helping you manage ‘panic’ engagement
- Find out how political or risky the project is. Conduct a swift risk analysis. You need to know how sensitive the project will be as this will guide the way you manage a panic engagement.
- Use the EHQ Engagement Tool Spectrum to think about the engagement environment you are operating in. This will help you choose the right tools.
- Quickly get to the bottom of what decision needs to be made? You need to understand the objective of your engagement. Distinguishing between the need to ask for input vs providing key information is critical.
- Ask your colleagues and project team on what the negotiable components of the engagement are. Panic engagement often results in feedback being sought on parts of a project which aren’t able to change. This can result in grumpy and frustrated participants.
- Identify what you need to know about your participants to make your decision or inform your project. Plan for how you will collect this.
- Avoid overly technical language and resist the urge to cut and paste from technical documents. Simply answer the following; What is the project about? Why is it happening? What does the participant need to do to get involved?
- Get feedback before you go live. Ask a colleague to give you feedback on your engagement tool selection and questions – have you hit the mark, are your questions coherent and meaningful? Often this is where you can quickly fix any elements that may unintentionally cause offence or inflame a sensitive issue.
- Back yourself as the expert. If you’re asked to prepare something a certain way and it isn’t right, feel confident in making alternative suggestions. Justify your reasons and explain why your alternative will be better.
- Link back to or build on existing consultation spaces – if you have done some pre-engagement on your EHQ site and people are already familiar with that space then simply update that project your new consultation tools and information instead of creating a new one.
- Lastly, you may still need to get sign-off or approvals from the project owner or senior management – get these people lined up as early as possible. Provide them with iterative updates on your plan.
While this list is far from exhaustive, we believe that these simple tips are a great start in helping you better manage panic engagement while still achieving good engagement outcomes.
By slowing down, asking the right questions and accessing the right information about your project, you will be better able to overcome these panic situations.
Ultimately though, the best way to manage ‘panic engagement’ is to ensure that your organisation has a strong culture of engagement and proper processes in places for managing and planning for engagement activities.
Don’t forget, if you need help in these situations, our friendly client experience team are never far away. Simply start a chat or contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get you the help you need.