Monday, February 24, 2014

A good community engagement professional understands their tools - and picks the right ones to meet their goals

I had an interesting conversation via Twitter with @hughstephens of Dialogue Consulting on Friday regarding how and when different consultation and engagement tools should be used by government.

His view was that online surveys should not be the default consultation method for government,
I found this a rather unusual thing to say - though I did agree with his follow-up tweet that,

There was an interesting discussion between Hugh and myself after this point, which you can follow via my Storify or directly on Twitter.

However I can boil my position down to one point: focus first on the goals of your consultation or engagement, then select the tools based on which will best suit your needs.

This approach works whatever your goals and whether you're consulting online, offline or both.

It causes me no end of concern when senior management, communication or community engagement professionals start from a position of which tool they prefer to use and then justify it within the goals they seek to achieve.

This can lead to distortion of the goals, poor outcomes and, potentially, significant pain for agencies, councils and governments or councillors when there's substantial pushback on the decisions arrived at via this process.

I'm also concerned when I hear engagement professionals state personal biases for or against specific types of tools. This can also bias an engagement process.

Someone who doesn't like, is unfamiliar with, or out-of-date on the capabilities of certain types of consultation and engagement tools may not be able to provide the best advice as to which tools and approaches will best meet an organisation's engagement goals.

I've been talking about this issue for around eight years now within and with government, exposing public sector professionals to a range of online approaches now available to them for engagement purposes to deepen and broaden their toolkit.

Only by understanding the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses of a good cross-section of the tools available today can communication and engagement professionals provide good advice to their senior management and elected officials regarding how to achieve their goals.

So for everyone involved in community engagement from the public sector - don't focus on the tools you like or dislike, focus on your goals.

Use your breadth of experience with different engagement and consultation approaches, together with evidence of past successes and failures, to select the right tools to meet your goals, whatever they happen to be!

PS: I'll shortly be crowdfunding a product designed to help community engagement and communications professionals to understand and select the right online tools for their goals. It is based on the training tool I developed and have been using successfully around the world for the last eight years.

Keep an eye out for more information in my blog and at

1 comment:

  1. Hugh Stephens has posted his perspective on this topic as well, over at:

    Well worth a read as well.


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