What a year it’s been. As a team, we have completed engagements at every level of government. We have crisscrossed the country learning and listening from those we engage. We have heard stories that will forever stay with us and have helped to grow our own empathy and ability as facilitators. How fortunate are we to be able to learn from everyone we meet?
It is in that spirit of learning and listening, that I have drafted the 2019 engagement forecast. This is a bit of an annual tradition, where I look back in order to look forward!
Here are the engagement and communications trends I think we will see in 2019:
- High-Touch/Broad-Based: Clients increasingly want to demonstrate broad-based engagement, typically through surveying, but there is a growing recognition that surveying alone isn’t always meaningful or comprehensive. So, the trend, I believe, will be to couple broad-based surveying with high-touch engagements for targeted stakeholders. This could be a focus group, workshop, or interviews, but the focus will be on complementing broadly based surveying with targeted in-person engagement. It’s a solid approach that provides both quantitative and qualitative results for a more holistic perspective on the part of the decision maker.
- With Community: From a health care perspective, the idea of person-centred care and focusing on care that is not TO and FOR a patient, but WITH a patient, is becoming the norm. There is again a growing recognition that those who need to live the decision should have an increased level of influence IN the decision. And so, the trend of WITH community, means that communities (where the community is a location or population) are going to simply take action without waiting for the decision maker to allow them to do so. When people feel their democratic influence is threatened, some will raise up to the challenge and force a democratic response. At the municipal level, this could be something as simple as neighbours fixing the park bench themselves; in health care, this could mean a cancer patient advocating for their rights and lobbying for more transparency in health care.
- The Picture and the Storyteller: On the one hand, I always say: “no one reads any more”; on the other hand, a picture is so compelling. It’s shareable, relatable, and inclusive. I see the increased use of compelling visual communications to support engagement as another trend for 2019.
- Process Attack: Stakeholders are becoming savvy to process design and know enough to suspect if they are being pushed/led to a particular result and rightly so. As people are passionate about the process, we always say that how people decide is nearly as important as what they decide, and this remains very true. So, document your process, be clear on the scope of engagement, and where ever possible, aim to co-create your engagement process with those you are engaging.
- Polarity and Opinion: The increasing frequency with which people “choose a side” in public discourse has never been greater. I foresee this trend toward black and white, us and them, right and wrong escalating in the coming year. Yet, the reality of my work and my world is that there are many shades in between. Rarely does anything feel cut and dried to me, and yet there is a push to extreme positions in so many areas and at all levels of government. What’s even more real and frightening is these polarized positions are informed by opinion, not fact. People believe what they want to believe and can be informed equally by posts on social media, their neighbour, or a random online rant. So, based on this trend, the need to listen, learn and unpack underlying motivation has never been more important. It’s needed so that dialogue can take place – so people don’t just jump to the comfortable corners of an opinion they don’t want to be challenged. This means taking the time and creating the space to conduct engagements that allow people to unpack their own beliefs and understand (usually) the complexity of the topic on which they are engaging.
Here’s to an engaging 2019, where we can all wade into the grey and bring our listening ears, open eyes and compassionate hearts.