Jumping right into the pool, cutting fresh tracks, or launching yourself into the IKEA ball room: these are all things that may end well, even if you don’t overthink them beforehand. Engagement is not one of those things.
What does it mean?
Ask this question as many times as you need to, until you have an answer that everyone internally agrees with: Who gets to decide, and how are they going to decide?
It sounds so simple, but the reality is that we do not live, or engage, in unidimensional systems. We engage in complex systems that require careful consideration of interconnected, sometimes competing realities. We ask this question often and regularly of our clients (who are smart people), and they often have to pause and check to ensure there is internal consensus around the decision, and decision-making process.
Once the decision-making process is clear, we work together to develop an engagement process that supports the decision process. This is where there is usually an opportunity to engage stakeholders and/or the public on the engagement process.
What does it look like?
- What engagement process would work for you?
- What would make it easy for you to participate in this engagement?
- What are the barriers to your participation, and how could we remove them?
- In what setting do you feel most comfortable?
- If you were in charge of designing this engagement, what techniques would you include?
These are just some of the questions we ask when we are reaching out to the decision maker, internal teams, stakeholders and/or the public when we are engaging on process before content.
Bottom line: At this stage, we are not asking them their opinion on bike lanes, a master plan, or their needs from the health care system. Rather, we are asking them what process would support their inclusion in the decision.
We call this pre-consultation. Early in the engagement planning and design phase, we seek to understand the process needs from the decision maker, the engagement team and stakeholders so that we can design an engagement process that meets their needs. We do this because we know that anger comes from unmet needs.
“Really? You want my opinion, but you’re only holding two evening open houses?”
We also know that when people don’t like the results of an engagement, often the first thing they do is attack the process. They said it wasn’t fair, it didn’t reach out to them, it wasn’t inclusive enough, etc… So by asking them early about their needs, we seek to engage them in process design so this is not a factor.
This is part of an ongoing series exploring Delaney + Associates’ Company Creed. Check out the introduction piece here.